Citing violation of due process, Pasig court remands Rappler securities case to prosecutor

CMFR File photo.

CMFR/PHILIPPINES –  Citing violation of the right of the accused to due process, a Pasig court has ordered the reinvestigation of a criminal case  against executives of online news site Rappler for alleged violation of the Securities Regulation Code (SRC).

This case is related to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) order in January 2018 to revoke Rappler’s license for alleged violation of the Constitutional ban on foreign ownership of Philippine media. The SEC said Rappler’s issuance of Philippine depositary receipts (PDRs) to Omidyar Network, a foreign investor, amounted to foreign control of the news organization. Rappler maintained that it is 100% Filipino-owned, and that PDRs are legal financial instruments.  The Court of Appeals ruled on 21 February 2019 that the SEC should review its revocation order.

While proceedings on the SEC case were ongoing, the National Bureau of Investigation filed a complaint against Rappler before the Office of the City Prosecutor (OCP) – Pasig in 2018. The prosecutors claimed that when Rappler issued the PDRs, it violated the Anti-Dummy Law and the Securities Regulation Code. On 26 March 2019, the OCP filed before the Pasig Regional Trial Court (RTC) charges against Maria Ressa, CEO and executive editor of Rappler; Glenda Gloria, managing editor; Manuel Ayala; James Bitanga; Nico Jose Nolledo; James Velasquez and Felicia Atienza.

Ayala, Bitanga, Nolledo, Velasquez and Atienza were members of Rappler’s board when the PDRs were issued in 2016. Only Ressa, Gloria and Ayala are still on the board today.

Ressa and Gloria argued in two joint omnibus motions that the prosecutor’s office only furnished them a copy of the indictment upon their inquiry. Gloria said she had motioned to defer the transmittal of the charges on March 26, but the prosecutor proceeded to file the charges on the same day anyway.

The Rappler executives added that when the complaint was still pending before the prosecutor’s office, they were only informed that they were being investigated for violations of the Anti-Dummy Law, and therefore did not have the chance to respond to the SRC charges. 

In an order dated 8 October 2019, Judge Elma Rafallo-Lingan of Pasig Regional Trial Court Branch 159 said the “undue haste in the transmittal of records” by the Office of the City Prosecutor (OCP) – Pasig violated the Rappler executives’ right to due process. Lingan suspended proceedings in the securities case and ordered it remanded to the prosecutor’s office for preliminary investigation.

The court also ordered the consolidation and joint trial of the anti-dummy and securities cases, as the charges arose from the same set of facts. The anti-dummy case was originally raffled to RTC Branch 265.

With the consolidation, proceedings in the anti-dummy case have been deferred. Lingan also reduced the bail for Ressa and Gloria, and the continuing travel bond of Ressa.

The two cases are among 11 filed against Ressa, Rappler directors and staff. Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corporation are charged with four tax violations before the Court of Tax Appeals, and one tax violation before Pasig RTC Branch 265. A cyber libel case has also been filed against Ressa and former staff Reynaldo Santos, Jr. before Manila RTC Branch 46.

Since February 2018, Rappler reporters have also been banned from covering Malacanang Palace and all presidential events and activities.