A Manila court shot down the claim of Rappler chief executive officer and founder Maria Ressa that her cyber libel case was an attack of press freedom by saying that the media should use its power responsibly.
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The Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 36 found Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. guilty of cyber libel for the article over a 2012 article concerning businessman Wilfredo Keng.
In a 37-page decision, judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa said there was no curtailment of press freedom in declaring Ressa and Santos guilty of cyber libel since a free press must be responsible.
“The exercise of a freedom should and must be used with due regard to the freedom of others. As Nelson Mandela said ‘for to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to lkive in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others’,” the decision read.
With this, the magistrate found them guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violation the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and sentenced the two to imprisonment ranging from six months and one day up to six years.
Each of them were slapped with P200,000 fine as moral damages and P200,000 as exemplary damages.
The case stemmed from the complaint of Keng against the May 29, 2012 article published by Rappler and written by Santos titled “CJ Using SUVs of Controversial Businessman”.
The article reported that then Chief Justice Renato Corona was found using a 2011 Chevrolet Subarban which was found registered to Keng. At that time Corona was facing an impeachment trial.
The article described the businessman as “shady” and has been involved in crimes including drugs and murder.
“In this case, the prosecution was able to establish the presence of all elements of cyberlibel,” read the court ruling.
Among the elements, the court said article clearly showed malice since it was published “with reckless disregard whether it was false or not.”
“In the present case, Accused Santos Jr. Wrote the subject article sans verification as to the veracity of the allegations stated therein. The article imputes various crimes upon the person of Keng which was sufficiently proven during the trial to be untrue. Thus, the Court is of the conclusion that accused Santos, Jr. did not bother to verify with any law enforcement agency whether Keng is actually involved in any of the aforementioned crimes before publishing the subject article,” read the ruling.
The court cited the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the National Bureau Investigation (NBI) have both issued certifications that Keng had no derogatory and criminal records.
Keng even tried to give his side of the story but Rappler did not give him the opportunity.
“If it is true that Rappler, Inc. and the individuals composing it are after fairness and balance, they will publish Keng’s side of the story for clarification despite the existence of more urgent news,” the court stresed.
Contrary to allegations made by the accused, the court said Keng was able to file the case within the prescriptive period.
“The instant case was filed in Court on 5 February 2019, which well within the period of twelve years and clearly the precription period has not yet set in,” it said.