Businessman seeks P50-M damages from Rappler over 'libelous' article

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 27 2019 04:22 PM

MANILA - The businessman who sued news website Rappler for cyber libel is asking for P50 million in damages over the allegedly “malicious and devastating defamation” he experienced as a result of a 2012 article accusing him of having a “shady past.”
 
In his affidavit which he affirmed before a Manila court Friday morning, Wilfredo Keng said the amount is only reasonable and commensurate to the injury he suffered.
 
“Given my stature and net worth, this amount of money is not even comparable to the injury inflicted on my reputation, and the pain and suffering that I, my family and my business have experienced,” he said, claiming he intends to donate the amount to charity.
 
Half of the amount is for moral damages to compensate for his alleged physical suffering, mental anguish, besmirched reputation and wounded feelings while the remaining half is for exemplary damages, to set an example to the community.
 
“I want to send the message to members of the media that they cannot simply destroy a person’s reputation and character, through irresponsible, inaccurate, malicious and unjust reporting, without grave consequences,” he said.
 
“I want to discourage the press, such as Rappler, which is a very popular social news network, from easily spreading baseless and malicious allegations without much consideration or forethought,” he added.
 
WHAT HAPPENED
 
Keng sued Rappler, CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. over an article first published in May 2012 which cited an intelligence report claiming he was under surveillance by the National Security Council for alleged involvement in illegal activities, such as human trafficking, drug smuggling, murder, smuggling of fake cigarettes and granting special investors residence visas to Chinese nationals.
 
Keng vehemently denied the allegations and requested that the article be taken down but his request was denied. 
 
In October 2017, he requested the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate before formally filing a complaint in January 2018. 
 
The DOJ indicted Rappler, Ressa and Santos in January 2019 for cyber libel. 
 
Keng said he felt “deeply shamed, humiliated and embarrassed” because of the article. He claimed his wife and 2 daughters have been “ridiculed and judged” and attributed the loss of his eldest daughter’s party-list group in this year’s elections to the Rappler article. 
 
During Friday’s hearing, he presented an NBI clearance and letters from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to disprove the allegations in the article.
 
OBJECTIONS OVERRULED
 
Rappler’s lawyer, Theodore Te, had sought to oppose certain questions in Keng’s affidavit, particularly on the supposed effects of the article on his wife and daughters claiming these were hearsay because they were not presented as witnesses.
 
He also objected to the introduction of documents on legal expenses and costs of lawyers as well the basis and amount of damages because these were not contained in the information (criminal charge).
 
But Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa overruled most of the objections. 
 
Keng’s lawyer, Joseph Banguis, said the court correctly overruled the objections since the questions in his client’s judicial affidavit are allowed under the rules.
 
CONTROVERSY OVER THE INDICTMENT
 
The indictment of Rappler, Ressa and Santos became an issue because the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 which punishes cyber libel was not signed into law until September 2012 or a few months after the allegedly libelous article was first published in May 2012. 
 
The implementation of the law itself was temporarily suspended by the Supreme Court. 
 
But the DOJ justified the indictment citing a republication of the article in February 2014, which, under its theory, made the case fall under the Cybercrime Prevention Act. 
 
The DOJ also adopted the interpretation that under the new law, a complainant for cyber libel has 12 years to file the case instead of 1 year under the traditional crime of libel in the Revised Penal Code.
 
Rappler claimed the indictment is a press freedom issue.
 
Keng’s testimony Friday marks the first time the businessman himself personally spoke about the issue, although he had been issuing statements through his lawyers previously.
 
The next hearing on is set on October 8 at 9 a.m.