Maria Ressa arraigned for cyber libel; SC may be next option

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa on Tuesday, May 14, was arraigned for one count of cyber libel at the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 46.

Ressa and co-accused, Rappler's former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr, did not enter a plea. As per rules, the court entered not guilty pleas on their behalf.

Ressa's lawyer Ted Te said the Supreme Court may be the next option.

"We're talking about it, we'll take a look at it. We have 60 days to decide," Te said.

The legal questions that could potentially be elevated to the Supreme Court are the prosecution's theory of continuing publication, and the prescription period for cyber libel.

In terms of prescription period, the Department of Justice extended what was only a one year prescription period for ordinary libel to 12 years for cyber libel.

The article was also written months before the Cybercrime Law was enacted in 2012, but the prosecution used the theory of continuing publication, especially because the article online reflected a later date in 2014 when some typographical errors were belatedly corrected.

It is Rappler's defense that the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the provision of penalizing aiding and abetting a cybercrime. Te argued before Branch 46 that aiding and abetting and continuous publication are the same in this context

"There are some theories damaging to all Filipinos – continuous publication, anyone who posts on Facebook will be there. The second is the prescription period for libel, it was changed in order to charge us from 1 year to 12 years. That's something that should concern everyone," Ressa said.

The court has also set mediation dates for Ressa and the complainant, businessman Wilfredo Keng.

"It's up to (Keng) whether he wants to settle this, if there will be a monetary figure to his damages. That's the whole point of mediation, to try to see if the civil aspect of this case can go away in order for the criminal case to not proceed further," Te said.

Deferred arraignment at Pasig court

Ressa was scheduled to be arraigned in another case Tuesday afternoon at the Pasig Regional Trial Court Branch 158, along with other board directors of Rappler.

But Judge Rowena Modesto San Pedro deferred the arraignment following a motion by Ressa and Rappler board director and managing editor Glenda Gloria to remand the case back to the Pasig City prosecutor's office.

The case involves alleged violation of the Securities and Regulations Code.

This is Ressa's 8th active court case, and part of the 11 overall cases that Rappler, Ressa, its directors, and staff are facing. 

The mother case of revoking Rappler's license to operate has been remanded to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for review.

Rappler reporters, with the intervention of dozens of journalists from competing news outfits, have also filed a petition before the Supreme Court to end President Rodrigo Duterte's coverage ban on Rappler. – Rappler.com

 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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