MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A Pasig Regional Trial Court (RTC) has ordered a reinvestigation of the securities case against Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa and 2016 board members of Rappler, saying that prosecutors denied their rights to due process.
"This Court hereby orders the suspension of the proceedings in this case before this court and accordingly orders the remand of the case to the Office of the City Prosecutor of Pasig City for the conduct of preliminary investigation," said the order dated October 8 by Branch 159 Judge Elma Rafallo-Lingan.
Lingan handles the cases for violation of the Securities Regulation Code (SRC) against Ressa and 5 members of the 2016 Rappler Board, which stemmed from the company's Philippine Depositary Receipt (PDR) issued to foreign investor Omidyar.
Rappler executives said that when the complaint was pending before Pasig prosecutors, they were only informed that they were being investigated for violation of the Anti-Dummy Act, and therefore did not have the chance to answer charges of violation of the SRC.
The executives were separately charged for one count each of violation of the Anti-Dummy Act, but Lingan consolidated the two cases in the same order.
Aside from Ressa, the members of Rappler's 2016 board charged in both cases are managing editor Glenda Gloria, as well as Manuel Ayala, James Bitanga, Nico Jose Nolledo, James Velasquez, and Felicia Atienza. Only Ressa, Gloria, and Ayala remain on the Rappler board today.
Lingan also suspended the proceedings of the anti-dummy case while Pasig prosecutors reinvestigate the alleged SRC violation.
"The presentation of prosecution's evidence in the anti-dummy case is hereby deferred and all previous settings in the anti-dummy case are hereby canceled," said Lingan.
Francis Lim, counsel for Rappler, hailed the decision. "The court’s order keeps alive our hope in our judicial system. All that we need for our cases are judges and justices who have the courage to decide them fairly. We are fervently hoping that the cases will be decided based solely on their merits so that truth and justice will prevail in the end," Lim said.
Due process violated
The complaint was filed before the Pasig prosecutors by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) which investigated Rappler for alleged violation of the anti-dummy act on the order of former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
This was an offshoot of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) decision to revoke Rappler's license on the basis of its PDR. This mother case has also been remanded to the SEC by the Court of Appeals (CA).
Rappler executives said that not only were they not given a chance to answer the SRC case, they were also deprived of the chance to appeal the prosecutors' indictment.
Court records showed that although the prosecutor signed the indictment on March 20, a copy was sent to the respondents only on March 26 upon their inquiry.
Gloria, one of the respondents, quickly manifested that she will file a motion for reconsideration, but the prosecutor proceeded with the filing of charges afternoon of March 26.
"Verily, the undue haste in transmittal of the records of the case to the Court for the filing of information against the accused violates the accused's right to due process, guaranteed under the Constitution," said Lingan.
Lingan also reduced the bail in the SRC case from P126,000 to P63,000 each.
"Gloria appeals to the mercy and compassion of this court and moves for the reduction of her bail...in light of her financial ability as a journalist and her active participation in the court proceedings," said the order. (READ: LOOK: How much has Rappler been asked to pay for bail and bonds?)
Citing Section 2, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Court which lays down the conditions for bail, Lingan granted their motions to reduce bail.
"For the same reasons, the court likewise grants accused Ressa's motion for reduction of travel bond from P100,000 to P50,000," said the order.
The SRC and anti-dummy cases are among 11 overall cases filed against Ressa, Rappler, and other staff members.
Tax cases that also rooted from the PDR issue are pending before the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA), and one before the Pasig RTC.