Law expert flags 'infirmities' in Manila court conviction vs Rappler's Ressa


Posted at Jun 17 2020 09:36 AM | Updated as of Jun 17 2020 09:42 AM

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MANILA - A law expert on Wednesday said there were many "infirmities" in the decision of a Manila court judge in convicting Rappler chief Maria Ressa for cyber libel.

The complaint should not have been filed as the prescriptive period had already lapsed, according to Jojo Lacanilao, co-convenor of Concerned Lawyers For Civil Liberties.

The period of prescription for cyber libel should be only 1 year, the same as libel, Lacanilao said as he cited the 2014 Supreme Court decision Disini vs Secretary of Justice which Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa also used in her ruling.

"The court further said, she cited this extensively so I’m wondering why she missed this, if you prosecute libel both under cyber law and Revised Penal Code that would constitute double jeopardy because it is the same crime," he told ANC.

"This case should not have been filed. Let’s presume you were libeled, but you didn’t file within 1 year of prescriptive period... The problem is, it was beyond the prescriptive period. That's why I think in 2017 they tried to negotiate with Rappler to issue a retraction or something like that. They thought that their action has already prescribed but they found some legal acrobatics about it."

The National Bureau of Investigation in 2018 said the complaint had "no basis" but the Department of Justice indicted the Rappler CEO and the news website's former researcher the next year.

The court also decided "without evidence" on the part of Maria Ressa that she was convicted as editor and as business manager, Lacanilao said.

Ressa had maintained her position as an executive editor was not the same as an editor-in-chief.

"The prosecution did not actually present any evidence that Ressa would fall under definition of editor and business manager, they just assumed," he said.

"You know what she based her decision on? On the testimony of Chi Hofileña, who is a witness of the defense. What the court did is she will have to prove that she is not an editor because in a sense I presumed she was because she has that title."

Lacanilao also said the Supreme Court in a 2018 ruling had already given guidelines on penalizing libel by imposing fines.

"The Supreme Court has already said, at least their preference in cyber libel is not to impose imprisonment but only fines. And the RTC is under the Supreme Court so those guideline should be binding," he said.

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.