MANILA — Rappler CEO Maria Ressa left for the United States on Sunday, her news agency said, after the Court of Appeals allowed her to attend a program at Harvard University and visit her parents there.
The CA Eighth Division, which hears Ressa’s appeal to her cyber libel conviction, allowed her to travel to Boston from Oct. 31 to Dec. 2 to attend a 30-day program, saying she was able to prove her travel is necessary and urgent and that she is not a flight risk.
In between, she will be visiting her parents in Florida during Thanksgiving on Nov. 25.
Ressa was required to post a P500,000-bond and to submit an updated itinerary.
The CA issued the resolution on Oct. 18, days after Ressa’s historic recognition as the first Nobel laureate from the Philippines, sharing the award with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, for her “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.”
CA: RESSA PROVED NECESSITY AND URGENCY OF TRAVEL
In a 14-page resolution, CA Associate Justice Geraldine Fiel-Macaraig said Ressa was able to prove the necessity and urgency of her travel, citing the invitation letter from the Center for Public Leadership and Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.
The invitation letter from Harvard said the program requires her physical presence for 30 days.
The CA also considered humanitarian grounds in allowing her to visit her parents whom she had not seen for two years.
“Certainly, one’s legitimate intention to be reunited with her/his parents cannot be doubted,” it said.
In December last year, the same court blocked Ressa's bid to visit her ailing mother who was due for an operation, saying she failed to prove the necessity and urgency of her travel.
Fiel-Macaraig said then that the medical abstract of Ressa’s mother, who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, lacks indication that Ressa was urgently needed in the US.
She also faulted Ressa for not immediately disclosing her mother’s medical condition and for supposedly concealing previous incidental travels.
In the recent ruling, Fiel-Macaraig said the denial of Ressa’s previous motions is “inconsequential.”
“[E]very Motion to Travel Abroad is separate and distinct from each other. Indeed, every motion needs to be resolved based on its factual merits. Corollarily, the previous denial of Ressa’s similar Motions is inconsequential to this present Urgent Motion to Travel Abroad,” she said, stressing that the right to travel is not absolute and Ressa bears the burden of proving the necessity and urgency of her travel.
CA: RESSA NOT A FLIGHT RISK
The CA also said Ressa successfully proved that she is not a flight risk, citing her itinerary, her strong economic ties to PH as Rappler CEO and her undisputed compliance with court-imposed conditions in her previous travels.
Ressa told ANC in an interview she intends to finish her appeal.
The same court had previously invoked her conviction for cyber libel as basis to deny her plea to travel, despite her track record of returning to the Philippines.
Now, the CA is referring to her previous compliance, rejecting the Office of the Solicitor General’s position that Ressa is a flight risk due to her dual citizenship and her alleged lack of respect for the Philippine judicial system.
“[W]hile Ressa’s conviction changes her situation and warrants the exercise of greater caution in allowing her to leave the Philippines, her undisputed compliance with the conditions imposed by the court a quo on her previous travels shows that she is not a flight risk. If she really had the intention to permanently leave the Philippines, she could have easily stayed in the U.S.A. and violated the conditions set by the court a quo. Yet she fulfilled all conditions for each travel abraod,” it said.
CA JUNKS SOLICITOR GENERAL’S ATTEMPT TO BLOCK RESSA’S TRAVEL
The OSG made one more attempt to block Ressa's travel by filing a motion for reconsideration of the CA's Oct. 18 ruling, saying she was merely invited by Harvard and suggesting that her non-participation in the program will not harm anyone.
The OSG also said that instead of visiting her parents, she could use "available online and technological applications."
But the CA Eighth Division, in an Oct. 29 resolution, stood by its earlier ruling, saying the OSG failed to present new compelling reasons.
According to a statement from Rappler, the other courts hearing Ressa's six other cases also granted her permission to travel.
She, however, will have to seek another approval to travel to Oslo, Norway for the awarding ceremony for her Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, the death anniversary of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel.
She will receive 10 million Swedish krona or more than $1 million in cash.