Ressa says court's ruling on cyber libel case vs. her, Rappler staff extends to every Filipino

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 16 2020 11:16 PM

MANILA - Embattled Rappler chief Maria Ressa said Tuesday the impact of a Manila court's guilty verdict on her and a researcher of her news organization, for cyber libel extends to every Filipino.

“The legal acrobatics that actually had to happen to even get this case to court are huge and will have an impact on every Filipino," Ressa said on ANC's Headstart.

"Imagine, to do this, to actually have to face this verdict in court, to bring this to court, they had to change the statute of limitations. The period of prescription of libel is 1 year; it’s now been changed to 12 years. And then this very - we obviously say it's a wrong idea - this novel concept put forward that the judge accepted is that, this changing (of) one letter in one word is republication or continuous publication.”

The case stemmed from a May 2012 article published on Rappler claiming that then-Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was facing an impeachment trial, had been using luxury vehicles belonging to several personalities, including businessman Wilfredo Keng.

Keng filed the case after he was described in the article as having a "shady past," citing an intelligence report and a prior article published on the Philippine Star. He has denied the allegations and claimed that Rappler did not give him a chance to air his side.

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In 2014, Rappler corrected a typo error in the story - "evation" to "evasion", technically updating the story on the website.

Rappler said the Anti-Cybercrime Law was approved in September 2012, months after the initial publication of the article in question. 

On Monday, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa handed down the guilty verdict against Ressa and former Rappler writer-researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr.

They face between 6 months and 1 day to 6 years in jail, and were also ordered to pay P200,000 in moral damages and P200,000 in exemplary damages. Their lawyer said they would study their options, including filing a motion for reconsideration with the same court or filing an appeal with the Court of Appeals within 15 days.

"I don't think we were the only ones on trial. I think the justice system was on trial yesterday as well," said Ressa, who is out on bail.

"And Judge Montesa now has codified, has institutionalized insidious attacks against the press, against independent media, against free speech," she added.

Ressa recalled she was attacked on social media in 2016, with memes and other forms of attack portraying her as a criminal.

“It took them 4 years to make me a criminal. And now I am. Whatever the messages that are seeded on social media, when the power comes after you top down, they can make it a reality. A lie told a million times becomes reality,” she said.

A journalist for more than 3 decades, Ressa said one cannot just speak words and expect people to believe it.

“Malacanang said the palace has nothing to do with it. The same way that it said the palace had nothing to do with the shutdown of ABS-CBN," she said.

"Let me put it this way: Words are nothing. Action speaks louder than word. And four years in the pattern of actions is very clear,”

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque had said President Rodrigo Duterte believes and supports freedom of speech and of the press.

“I feel like, to say that President Duterte values freedom of the press is misleading at best, a lie at worst,” Ressa said.

Ressa said Rappler's track record stands for itself, and she is seeking justice after having been under attack in the last few years under the Duterte administration.

Rappler and Ressa are also facing charges of tax fraud, violation of the Securities Regulation Code and the Anti-Dummy Law, among others.

“I’ve weathered a lot of attacks. These attacks are different because they are exponential lies on social media," she said.

"I’m doing my best to ask for justice because I feel like I’ve been maligned. I have been constantly attacked."

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“Our lawyers are looking at what kinds of actions are available to us, precisely because we would challenge parts of this as unconstitutional,” said Ressa. 

“How do you have faith in the justice system that repeatedly turns the world upside down, that repeatedly seems to have not just selective justice but takes the interpretation that fits what the government wants? I want the justice system to prove me wrong. I want the justice system to give us justice. I want them to prove that they are an independent body,” she said.

"We are hopeful that because the arguments that we presented are based on evidence, are supported by law and, therefore, should we decide to file a motion for reconsideration before any appeal, we are hoping that the judge will consider the arguments within the light of the law, the Constitution, the evidence presented, and the facts that are already established or accepted," her laywer, Theodore Te, said in the same program.

But Te said that if the ruling is sustained, any post by anyone, and not just journalists, in practical terms, can be acted upon 12 years on.

"That is the worrisome part there... In this case, when the first post was made in 2012, before the typographical correction, there was yet no Cybercrime law. So, it is actually worrisome that republication online and the prescription period will now contribute to a possible retroactive application of the law, which is not allowed by the Constitution," he said.

Te said that the case "goes much larger than simply a private complainant's charge for cyber libel."

"The effect of this now basically is, a court telling journalists, 'This is what you cannot do in terms of journalistic practices, or what you should be doing in terms of journalistic practices'. Eventually, you will then have to balance that judicial intervention, for example with Article 3, the guarantee of a free press. That's the part that we also want the court addressed," he said.