The Philippines’ Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicted news website Rappler, its chief executive officer and executive editor Maria Ressa, and former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos, Jr. for cyberlibel for an article the news website published seven years ago.
The DOJ announced its decision in a resolution dated Jan. 10 but was made public only yesterday, reported GMA News.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) which acted on a case filed by a businessman named Wilfredo Keng. Keng filed the complaint against Rappler for allegedly publishing false information about him in an article titled “CJ using SUVs of ‘controversial’ businessmen.”
Written by Santos, who was then working for Rappler, the article reported that Keng was allegedly involved in “illegal activities, namely ‘human trafficking and drug smuggling.'”
The article also said that then-Chief Justice Renato Corona used a vehicle that belonged to Keng when Corona was attending his impeachment trial at the Senate. Keng, however, denied that he owned the vehicle which Corona used during that time.
The article was published on Rappler’s website on May 29, 2012 and was updated on Feb. 19, 2014.
Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Edwin Dayog said Rappler, Ressa, and Santos Jr. committed libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
In the resolution that was obtained by ABS-CBN News, Dayog said: “The publication complained of imputes to complainant Keng the commission of crimes. It is clearly defamatory.”
Dayog added: “Under Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code, every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown. The presumed malice is known as malice in law. The recognized exceptions, where malice in law is not present, are the absolutely or qualifiedly privileged communications.”
“The publication in question does not fall under any of the absolutely or qualifiedly privileged communications. It is not qualifiedly privileged as a ‘private communication made in the performance of any legal, moral or social duty,'” Dayog also said.
According to The Philippine Daily Inquirer, Ressa said that she could not be accused of cyberlibel because the Cybercrime Prevention Act was not yet in effect when the article was first published in May 2012.
The Act, also known as Republic Act 10175, was approved on Sept. 12, 2012.
The DOJ disagreed with Ressa because it said the article was updated in February 2014 and remains online to this day.
On the other hand, the DOJ dismissed Keng’s complaints against former and incumbent Rappler board members Manuel Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Glenda Gloria, James Bitanga, Felicia Atienza, and Dan de Padua and former corporate secretary Jose Maria Hofileña due to the absence of evidence that would prove their participation in the alleged crime.
The cyber libel case is just one of the many legal woes that Ressa and Rappler are facing. Rappler and Ressa have been charged at the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) with three counts of violating the internal revenue code for allegedly failing to submit the correct information in their tax returns in 2015. They were also charged with one count of tax evasion at the CTA.
It does not end there. One count of tax evasion was filed against Rappler and Ressa at the Pasig Regional Trial Court.
Ressa has maintained that the charges were politically-motivated because it has been critical of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.