Ressa, writer appeal cyber libel verdict

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    RAPPLER chief executive officer Maria Ressa and former researcher and staff writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. yesterday asked the Manila regional trial court to reconsider its ruling convicting them for cyber libel.

    In a motion for reconsideration, Ressa and Santos asked Manila RTC Branch 46 Rainelda Estacio-Montesa to reconsider her ruling, arguing that the prosecution failed to prove that there was actual malice in the article published by the online news outfit Rappler that was the basis of the complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng.

    “The court erred in not appreciating that the private complainant fell within the definition of a ‘public figure’ thus requiring the prosecution to prove actual malice,” the motion said, adding that the prosecution failed to prove actual malice in its arguments and the evidence it presented during the trial of the case.

    “The court erred in not considering that cyber libel under Section 4 (c)(4) of RA 10175 is a content-based offense, thus requiring strict scrutiny based on controlling jurisprudence,” they added.

    They also said the court erred in dismissing the testimonies of the defense witnesses as not binding, inadmissible and hearsay.

    Among the defense witnesses were Rappler executive Chay Hofilena who told the court that Ressa does not exercise editorial control on Rappler.

    Ressa’s camp also presented former NBI legal division heads Edwin Leuterio and Joselito Amon.

    Leuterio and Amon issued separate legal opinions saying there was no basis to indict Ressa and Santos though their opinion was not endorsed by then NBI Director Dante Gierran.

    They also questioned why the court did not consider, but only noted, the proposed intervention on their behalf of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye.

    In asking the court to reconsider its verdict, Ressa and Santos said it also erred in holding them liable for cyber libel for the article that was originally written in 2012 by Santos, where it was mentioned that Keng lent his sports utility vehicle to then chief justice Renato Corona, because there was “no proof of republication” or if they had a hand in its republication, if indeed it was republished.

    “The court also erred in finding that the prosecution proved the essential element of republication as it characterized ‘updating of the article as republication.’ Likewise, it also erred in finding that there was republication in the absence of a substantial change in the article,” they added.

    They also questioned the court’s finding that the prescription period for cyber libel was 12 years.

    The court has affirmed the resolution of the Department of Justice that the date of reckoning of the prescription period is on the date of the republication of the article.

    Estacio-Montesa dismissed the contention of the defense that the cybercrime law could not have applied to them since the article was written and published on May 29, 2012 and the cybercrime law only became a law on September of the same year. The court used the republication date of February 19, 2014 as basis for ruling that the defendants were covered under the law.

    Ressa and Santos also faulted the court in taking their silence and their non-presentation as witness during the trial as adverse to their case.