By Minka Tiangco
A Manila court found Rappler chief Maria Ressa and her co-defendant, former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. guilty of cyber libel.
Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio Montesa handed out the verdict following an eight-month trial.
The promulgation day was also postponed for two months after court operations were temporarily suspended amid the threat of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
During the promulgation, only the complainant, the accused, their lawyers, and three members of the media were allowed inside the courtroom in observance of physical distancing guidelines.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed by Wilfredo Keng about an article written by Santos on May 29, 2012.
In the article entitled “CJ using SUVs of controversial businessman,” Santos wrote that then Chief Justice Renato Corona was using a 2011 Chevrolet Suburban that was found to be registered to Keng.
Santos wrote in his article that Keng, who reportedly had a “shady past,” was tagged in human trafficking and drug smuggling activities. The businessman was also allegedly involved in the killing of Manila Councilor Chika Go in 2002.
In October, 2017, Keng filed a complaint with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Cybercrime Division, saying that the article published by Rappler aimed to purposely “malign, dishonor, and discredit” his character and reputation.
Ressa and Santos on February 1, 2018 filed counter-affidavits, stating that the article was published four months before the enactment of Republic Act 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and that no criminal law is retroactive.
The NBI junked the complaints filed against the two after finding that the one-year prescriptive period for libel has lapsed. But a few days later, the bureau recommended to the Department of Justice (DOJ) that Rappler be prosecuted for cyber libel.
This after Keng filed a supplemental affidavit, stating that the prescriptive period for crimes falling under Section 4(c) (4) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is 15 years and not one year.
On January 10, 2019, the DOJ recommended the filing of cyber libel charges against Ressa and Santos.
Ressa was arrested by NBI agents on February 13, 2019, a day after Montesa issued a warrant for her arrest. She was released on February 14, 2019 after posting a P100,000 bail.
The Rappler chief was arraigned for one count of cyber libel at Manila RTC Branch 46 on May 14, 2019. Her trial started on July 23, 2019.