NBI summons Rappler CEO Ressa, reporter over cybercrime complaint

MANILA, Philippines – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Thursday, January 18, sent subpoenas to Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and a former reporter over a complaint for violation of the cybercrime law.

The complaint was filed by Wilfredo Keng, a businessman whom Rappler reported on in 2012 for having supposedly lent his SUV to the late former chief justice Renato Corona.

Reynaldo Santos Jr, then a reporter for Rappler's Research and Investigative unit, authored the report. Santos is no longer connected with Rappler. 

In 2012, as Corona's impeachment trial was drawing to a close, Santos reported that then chief justice had been seen using a black Suburban in and out of the Supreme Court (SC).

The vehicle was traced by the Land Transportation Office (LTO) to Keng. Keng admitted to Rappler he owned a black Suburban with the same plate number, but denied it was the same vehicle photographed at the basement of the SC.

Keng's company figured in a mining rights lawsuit resolved by the Court of Appeals. The CA favored Keng's company.

Santos also reported about Keng's history of being involved in human trafficking, cigarette, drug smuggling, and murder.

Santos and Ressa are required to appear at the NBI and submit evidence on January 22.

Not the owner

A subpoena based on the same complaint was also sent to businessman Benjamin Bitanga. Bitanga is incorporator of Dolphin Fire, which is a shareholder in Rappler Holdings.

Bitanga does not sit on the board of Rappler Incorporated.

It's Benjamin's son James, who sits on the board of Rappler Incorporated. 

NBI could be going by the column of former journalist Rigoberto Tiglao, where he falsely claims that Bitanga owns Rappler. 

Solicitor General Jose Calida, who initiated the investigation into Rappler's ownership, said he was prompted by reports particularly that of Tiglao

All 3 subpoenas, signed by NBI Director Dante Gierran, were dated January 10, a day before the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled to revoke Rappler Inc's registration.

On January 17, Justice Sectetary Vitaliano Aguirre II formally authorized the NBI to conduct a case buildup against Rappler over issues of corporate foreign control and possible violations of the anti-dummy law. 

Rappler slammed the investigation as a fishing expedition, meant to harass the news organization and silence a critical press. – 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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