MANILA - The businessman who accused Rappler chief Maria Ressa of cyber libel said Monday his complaint was "not a fight against press freedom," nor was it a case of the government.
Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. face up to 6 years in prison after being found guilty by a Manila court of defaming Wilfredo Keng for linking him to alleged illegal activities in a 2012 article.
In a statement to the press after the promulgation of the verdict, Keng said his complaint was a "private suit" he filed "independently" from any case government has launched against Ressa.
"To repeat, it has been more than 3 years. Had the government been, as Ressa falsely claims, connected with my private suit, maaaring matagal nang natapos ang kaso na ito," he said.
"This is not a fight against the press freedom, an institution I deeply respect and uphold... My filing and winning this case assures Filipinos that published falsehoods will not remain unchallenged and unchecked in this jurisdiction but will instead be dealt with by law, strengthening the people’s respect for the Philippine media in the years to come."
Rappler's article claimed that Keng's luxury vehicle was used by former Chief Justice Renato Corona during the impeachment proceedings against him and said the businessman was under surveillance by the National Security Council for alleged involvement in human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Keng described Rappler's accusations as false, saying these "have no place in a responsible and free press."
He reiterated he has never been investigated, charged with or convicted of any illegal acts in the country or abroad.
"Ressa has never disputed this, but has simply attempted to hide behind a technical plea: na sa kabila ng kanilang kasinungalingan, hindi na ako maaaring magreklamo dahil lumipas na ang panahon kung kailan ko dapat isampa ito," Keng said.
"Justly, this attempt has failed. Ressa then dares to publicly connect my private suit to an alleged governmental attack on the Philippine Free Press."
The businessman said he had also filed another libel complaint against Ressa before the Makati City Prosecutor.
"It is of public record: My counsel had pleaded and begged with Rappler to correct their false public accusations that I am a criminal, or at the very least, to publish my side. They refused. They have denied me my right to clear my name," he said.
"Where else can I go to seek justice and protection but our courts? And so I did."
Keng, who recalled his humble beginnings as a "young man selling my wares on a few feet of space in the banketas of Manila," said his complaint against the Rappler article was his "bid to protect my name, and my sacrifice for my children and our future generations, who deserve nothing less than freedom in the form of absolute truth."
He said that unlike Ressa, he took the witness stand during the trial of the case "and testified in open court because I believe that I am telling the truth."
Ressa and Santos will remain free on bail they previously posted and were given 15 days to appeal, according to their counsel Theodore Te. Both were ordered to pay P200,000 in moral damages and P200,000 in exemplary damages.
Rappler, which has published stories critical of the administration, has described cases and acts against it as an attack on press freedom. The government refutes the claim.