Businessman Wilfredo Keng files 2nd cyber libel complaint vs journalist Maria Ressa

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 19 2020 07:15 PM | Updated as of Jun 19 2020 07:20 PM

Rappler CEO journalist Maria Ressa speaks during a press conference after receiving a guilty verdict on cyber libel by the Manila Regional Trial Court on June 15, 2020. Angie De Silva, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Just days after Maria Ressa's conviction for cyber libel, news website Rappler disclosed Friday that businessman Wilfredo Keng filed another complaint against the journalist at the Makati City Prosecutor's' Office in February this year.

The complaint, also for cyber libel, was due to Ressa's Feb. 15, 2019 tweet, which posted screenshots of a 2002 Philippine Star article linking the property developer to the murder of a former councilor.

This was the same article referred to in Rappler's May 2012 report that was the subject of Ressa's cyber libel conviction on Monday.

The Philippine Star took down the article after Keng's camp "raised the possibility of legal action" following Ressa's arrest on Feb. 13, 2019.

"While the Philippine Star itself took the prudence of removing the libelous article, the respondent made sure that it will be read by her 350,000 followers and anybody else who has access to the internet," Keng said in his complaint dated Feb. 13 this year.

Keng said he was advised by his lawyers that Ressa's tweet was a different publication and could make her liable for a separate offense, using the same argument that the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 47 had used to justify the application of the Cybercrime Prevention Act on Rappler's 2012 article. 

Rappler supposedly republished the 2012 article in Feb. 2014, making it fall under the new law.

In the new complaint, the businessman accused Ressa of maliciously sharing false information despite having been shown a 2016 certification from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) stating that he has no derogatory record.

The PDEA certification cleared Keng of involvement in drugs but not in murder that was the subject of the Philippine Star article.

But he insisted that both the Philippine Star's and Rappler's articles had the same purpose of destroying his reputation.

Keng said his lawyers demanded that Ressa take down the tweet but she instead sent a letter resisting the demand.

"I disagree with your legal characterization of the tweet as a republication, based on existing jurisprudence," Ressa said. 

"The tweet itself makes reference verbatim to the Philippine Star news item which the Philippine Star has not recanted for being untrue but which it has taken down only due to threat of legal action against it.

"It is protected expression under the Constitution and the law and your demand constitutes outright censorship," she added.

Ressa has yet to respond to the complaint as the imposition of the enhanced community quarantine affected the deadline for submission of her counter-affidavit.

A Manila court on Monday sentenced Ressa and co-accused Reynaldo Santos, Jr. to jail time ranging from 6 months and 1 day to 6 years and damages totalling P400,000.

Several international and local media and rights groups have criticized the ruling, which lengthened the period for filing a complaint from 1 year for libel to 12 years for cyber libel, as unconstitutional and an attack on press freedom and freedom of expression.

Ressa's camp has yet to decide whether to ask the Manila court to reconsider its ruling or to file an appeal with a higher court.