Manila court denies Rappler’s request to junk cyber libel charges

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa leaves her office after she was arrested in Manila on February 13, 2019. (Photo: Maria Tan, AFP)
Philippine journalist Maria Ressa leaves her office after she was arrested in Manila on February 13, 2019. (Photo: Maria Tan, AFP)

The arraignment for those involved in the cyber libel case filed against Rappler will proceed after the court denied the news website’s request to junk the case.

In a nine-page order dated April 12 and made public today, Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 said that they are rejecting Rappler‘s plea to drop the case because it lacked merit.

This means that the arraignment will proceed on April 16, the Philippine Star reported.

Rappler, its executive editor Maria Ressa, and former journalist Reynaldo Santos Jr. were indicted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for cyber libel for publishing a story in May 2012 which said that linked businessman Wilfredo Keng to the late impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Republic Act 10175, which the DOJ used as its basis for the case, was signed on Sept. 12, 2012 or four months after the Keng article was first published. However, the DOJ said that Rappler could still be indicted because it was supposedly republished on February 2014ABS-CBN News reported.

In their motion sent to Judge Montesa, Rappler and Ressa said they could not be accused of cyber libel because they said that after the law was signed in September 2012, it was challenged before the Supreme Court, and a temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued against it. The law came into full effect only in April 2014, the month in which the TRO was lifted, or two months after the supposed republication of the article.

However, Judge Montesa said they could still be prosecuted because the TRO did not suspend the cybercrime law’s effectiveness.

In its resolution, the Manila court also said that the prescriptive period for cyber libel is 12 years contrary to Rappler‘s claim that it was one year, reported CNN Philippines.

In her order, Judge Montesa said that the case was filed on February 5, 2019, “which is well within the period of 12 years.”

In a Twitter post, Ressa said Montesa’s decision is a ground-breaking ruling that “creates a chilling effect” and said that because of it, all Facebook posts can be held against a person for more than a decade.

Aside from cyber libel, Ressa has also been indicted for tax evasion and for allegedly violating the anti-dummy law. She said all charges from the government are politically-motivated. President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly complained of Rappler‘s coverage of him and his government and even alleged that they report fake news. However, many, including local and international media, continue to support Ressa and Rappler.

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