MANILA - A Manila court is set to release the verdict on the cyberlibel case against news outfit Rappler, its CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. on June 15.
In an order issued Monday, June 1, the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 notified Ressa and Santos of the promulgation of judgment on June 15, 8:30 a.m., in connection with the case filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng.
The release of the ruling was initially set on April 3 but was postponed because of the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Keng accused the 3 of smearing his reputation over a May 2012 article alleging that he supposedly allowed former Chief Justice Renato Corona to use an SUV. The same article cited an intelligence report alleging Keng had a shady past.
He filed a complaint with the NBI for cyberlibel in 2015.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted Ressa, Santos and Rappler in 2019, even though the Cybercrime Prevention Act was not signed into law until September 2012, or 4 months after the initial publication of the article.
The DOJ said Rappler’s 2012 article is covered by the cyberlibel law after it was republished in February 2014.
Rappler and Ressa moved to dismiss the case by arguing that the law did not take effect until April 2014 when the SC decision upholding the law’s validity became final and the temporary restraining order (TRO) was lifted.
But the court, in April last year, rejected Rappler's argument, explaining that the law remained in effect despite the TRO staying its implementation. Any violation, it said, could be prosecuted after the TRO is lifted.
The court also sided with the DOJ in ruling that a cyberlibel case has a prescriptive period of 12 years, compared to 1 year for libel under the Revised Penal Code.
A similar plea for the dismissal of the case on the ground of insufficiency of evidence was also junked in November 2019. The court said there was sufficient evidence to "sustain the indictment" and "the accused appear to be the perpetrators."
If the release of the verdict pushes through on June 15, the whole trial will have been over in a little over a year.
If found guilty, Ressa and Santos could face up to 10 years in prison.
Human rights advocates and various local and international media organizations have voiced concern over what they call "shrinking democratic space."
At the time of Ressa's arraignment in May last year, 11 cases have been filed against her. She has posted bail 8 times.
Aside from the cyberlibel case, Rappler and Ressa are facing charges of tax fraud, violation of the Securities Regulation Code and the Anti-Dummy Law, among others.
Ressa has said that the charges against her and Rappler are the current administration's way of intimidating those who seek to hold government to account, a claim dismissed by Malacanang officials.