MANILA — The Court of Appeals has denied the bid of Rappler President and CEO Maria Ressa to visit her ailing mother in the United States for the holidays despite 4 other courts allowing her to leave the country.
In a resolution dated Dec. 18, the CA Special Twelfth Division denied Ressa’s motion to travel citing “failure to prove the necessity and urgency of her intended travel” and saying there are “circumstances sufficient to prohibit her from leaving the country.”
Ressa was supposed to travel to the United States on December 19 and intended to return by January 11, 2021.
In her December 1 motion before the CA, which is handling her appeal on her cyber libel conviction, Ressa invoked humanitarian considerations to visit her mother and father in Florida, disclosing that her mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer in October this year.
“Mrs. Ressa’s illness is serious. That Mrs. Ressa, a senior citizen, is afflicted with such a serious illness during a pandemic, with mobility restricted, is certainly reason for concern for her family, especially Ms. Ressa, who is not with her. That she is afflicted with such a serious illness and continues to be deprived, even briefly, of actual contact with her children, makes her—and Ms. Ressa’s—situation even more difficult,” she said in her motion filed through her lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group.
“Even with technological advances in the medical field, the importance of human contact in healing—physical and mental--cannot be trivialized or removed. This cannot be replaced by online calls, no matter how frequent and no matter how long,” it said.
But the CA, which had previously denied Ressa’s bid to travel twice, treated her motion as a continuation of her second motion, prohibited under the rules.
It also stuck to its earlier position that Ressa’s conviction for cyber libel in June this year “changes her situation” calling for “greater caution” from the courts before allowing a person out on bail to leave the country, based on the 1995 Supreme Court case of Marcos vs. Sandiganbayan.
Ressa had cited 2 cases where the Supreme Court allowed 2 accused convicted of graft charges to travel abroad while their cases were on appeal. The reasons cited included a visit to a church in Prague and a European tour with the family in the first case and a pilgrimage tour in the second case.
The accused in the 2 cases were sentenced to up to 6 years and 9 years in jail, respectively. Ressa, along with ex-Rappler researcher and writer Reynaldo Santos, Jr., were sentenced to up to 6 years in prison over an article involving businessman Wilfredo Keng.
But the CA rejected the 2 cases as “not squarely applicable” saying that in the first case, the accused “actively participated in the defense of his case” while Ressa supposedly “chose not to defend herself” and in the second case, because the accused had previously been allowed to leave the country.
The CA also said the “medical abstract lacks any indication that Ressa is urgently needed in the USA.”
“Foremost, the document shows that her mother was seen on telemedicine, which literally means healing at a distance. Also, the attending physician attested that her mother tolerated well the procedure performed to her,” the court said through CA Associate Justice Geraldine Fiel-Macaraig.
The court also noted undisclosed “incidental travel to other areas in the United States” in denying Ressa’s plea.
It went to the extent of calling out Ressa for supposedly not disclosing her mother’s medical condition in her previous motion and brought up her prior failure to disclose her Paris trip was not supposedly necessary because it was conducted online.
“Considering that this is the third time that Ressa has concealed a material fact, We deem it necessary to enjoin her from repeating a similar act since this Resolution is without prejudice to a future necessary and urgent travel,” it said.
The Court also expressed concern that the pandemic might force Ressa to stay longer in the US due to travel restrictions.
RESSA MOVES FOR RECONSIDERATION
Ressa, through lawyer Ted Te, filed a motion for reconsideration with the CA on Monday, objecting to the Court’s appreciation of the medical abstract.
“With due respect, this court should not substitute its own judgment for that of a medical doctor. At the very least, were this court in doubt as to the healing effects of appellant’s personal attendance, the same could have been resolved by the court by simply requiring a hearing—which is what the Sandiganbayan did in Marcos—instead of simply brushing off the medical abstract,” it said.
The motion also took exception to CA’s statement that Ressa supposedly chose not to defend herself.
“It is untrue that appellant ‘chose not to defend herself before the court a quo.’ Choosing not to testify is not the same as not defending herself. The Record will disclose that the defense presented evidence before the trial court,” it said.
“It is disturbing for the court to make such a conclusion in a preliminary incident— a request for travel—even before the appeal on the merits, which would include a review of all the evidence presented, could be determined. It is even more disturbing that the court would take adversely a decision by an accused not to testify during trial and construe it negatively,” it added.
The Court of Appeals’ ruling differs from the rulings of 4 other courts which allowed Ressa to leave the country despite her conviction.
The Pasig Regional Trial Court Branch 157, which is handling one of her tax evasion cases, said it found no valid reason to disallow Ressa’s travel considering that “flights have resumed on a more regular basis and a vaccine against COVID-19 is at hand, making travel and cross-border movement less likely to be curtailed.”
The same court had previously rejected Ressa’s plea to travel to attend the screening of A Thousand Cuts in the US in August but is now citing a Court of Tax Appeals ruling that said Ressa’s conviction alone is not sufficient justification to deny her right to travel.
Another Pasig court — RTC Branch 159 — which is handling her anti-dummy and violation of Securities Regulation Code cases — shared the same view, invoking “humanitarian consideration.”
The Court of Tax Appeals First Division, hearing her 4 other tax evasion cases, also granted Ressa permission to travel, as well as the Makati RTC Branch 147 where her 2nd cyber libel case filed by Keng is pending.
In total, Ressa was allowed to leave the country in 8 out of 9 cases.
She had been previously allowed to travel 35 times by various trial courts and the CTA, based on her motion for reconsideration.
As of early this year, Ressa has posted at least P1.2 million in travel bonds in Pasig RTC Branch 157 alone, where her and Rappler Holdings Corp’s supposed liability only stands at less than P300,000.
Her motion for reconsideration stressed her track record of always coming back to the country.
Despite the CA’s denial of her latest bid to visit her parents, Ressa said she would keep on trying to press the Court to allow her to travel.
“I’m not voluntarily giving up my rights. And I don’t get tired. #HoldTheLIne,” Ressa told ABS-CBN News in a message.