The camp of Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa and a former reporter suffered another legal setback after a Manila City court found sufficient basis to proceed with the trial of the cyber libel case filed against them by businessman Wilfredo Keng.
This came after the Manila City Regional Trial Court, Branch 46, denied the motion to quash filed by Ressa and co-accused Reynaldo Santos Jr. The decision paved the way for the arraignment of the two accused Tuesday, before the court.
In dismissing Ressa and Reynaldo’s motion to quash, Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa ruled that the Department of Justice was able to “sufficiently establish” the elements of cyber libel in the case.
Ressa and Santos had argued in their motion that the DOJ wrongly applied the multiple republication principle as there was no basis in law for such application.
The two said that the update of the article linking Keng to alleged criminal activities such as human trafficking and drug smuggling merely corrected a typographical error.
“Since multiple republication is not applicable, the only basis for determining whether an offense exists is the original posting made in May 2012 and not the supposed republication on February 2014. No offense exists as Republican Act 10175 or the Cyber Crime Law cannot be applied retroactively,” Ressa and Santos said in their appeal.
The accused also argued that they cannot be prosecuted under RA 10175 because the law was placed under temporary restraining order by the Supreme Court at the time of the allegedly libelous publication of the article.
The RTC, however, dismissed their argument saying that their argument on the republication of the article are matters that should not be raised in the motion to quash.
“The allegations of the defense as to the multiple republication rule are matters extrinsic in the information, thus, improper to raise in the motion to quash based on this ground,” the court said in its decision dated April 12.
The court also said the injunction issued by the High Court merely suspended the implementation of RA 10175, and not the effectivity of the law.
“The TRO merely suspends the implementation and enforcement of RA 10175, so that crimes committed during the said period cannot be prosecuted. However, it did not suspend its effectivity. So, while crimes committed during the said period cannot be prosecuted during the effectivity of the TRO, they may be prosecuted after the lifting of the same just like what is done in this case,” it said.
The court also held that all the elements of cyber libel—the allegation of a discreditable act or condition concerning another, publication of the charge, identity of the person defamed, and existence of malice—are present in the instant case.
“A thorough reading of the information reveals that the allegations contained therein sufficiently established all the elements of the offense of cyber libel as defined under Section 4 (C) (4) of RA 10175,” the court ruled.
“Considering that all the essential elements of the offense as defined under RA 10175, were sufficiently established in the information, the allegations contained therein, indeed, constitute an offense,” it noted.
As to Ressa and Santos’ arguments that the alleged crime had prescribed by the time Keng filed the case, the court declared that the prescriptive period “is 12 years.”
Finally, the court held that Rappler Incorporated’s corporate liability may be proven in evidence during the trial proper of the case.
The cyber libel case is just one of the many cases filed against Ressa and Rappler after the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked its business registration due to violation of the constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of mass media.
Ressa and other officials of Rappler are also indicted for tax evasion worth a total of P108 million, as well as for violation of the Anti-Dummy Law.
Ressa denied the charges and said the Duterte administration is out to get her and Rappler for their critical reporting on the government’s bloody crackdown on illegal drugs.