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Rappler, Ressa indicted for cyber libel

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The Justice department has indicted the onlline news site Rappler, led by its president Maria Ressa and former reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr., for cyber libel over an article published in 2012 implicating businessman Wilfredo Keng in criminal activities.

In a resolution, the department said it had found probable cause in the complaint filed against Rappler by the National Bureau of Investigation and Keng for the alleged violation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act filed in March last year.

“The publication complained of imputes to complainant Keng the commission of crimes. It is clearly defamatory,” said the resolution dated Jan. 10, 2018 but released only last Monday.

Published in May 2012 and updated in February 2014, the article written by Santos cited an “intelligence report” and said Keng had been under surveillance for alleged involvement in “human trafficking and drug smuggling.”

The investigating fiscals turned down the defense of the respondents that they could not be held liable under RA 10175, which was signed in Sept. 2012 or four months after the posting of the article on the news website.

The department said the updated version of the article, which was posted on Feb. 19, 2014, was covered by the law.

“Under the ‘multiple publication rule,’ a single defamatory statement, if published several times, gives rise to as many offenses as there are publications,” the department said.

“Accordingly, we hold that the republication of the article as may have been modified or revised is a distinct and separate offense, for which the author, respondent Santos, should be prosecuted. Respondent Ressa, being the editor, should be included in the indictment.”

The department also rejected the claim of the respondents that the complaint should be dismissed because of the one-year prescription period on libel cases, saying such rule did not apply to cyber libel cases.

The department also dismissed the complaints against former and incumbent Rappler board members Manuel Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Glenda Gloria, James Bitanga, Felicia Atienza, Dan de Padua and former corporate secretary Jose Maria Hofileña due to the absence of evidence showing their participation in the alleged crime.

The department has indicted Rappler Holdings Corp., the holding company of Rappler, in October last year over a P108-million tax-0evasion case.

It found probable cause in the complaint filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue against Ressa and her company.

The department held that RHC and Ressa were liable for tax evasion after they failed to indicate in RHC’s 2015 tax returns the total gain of almost P162.5 million that was due to the issuance of PDRs to Washington DC-based NBM Rappler LP, a unit of North Base Media and Omidyar Network Find LLC.

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