Court Resets Arraignment of Rappler CEO, Former Researcher

Maria Ressa faces the media after she posted bail for cyberlibel on February 15, 2019.

CMFR/PHILIPPINES — The arraignment of online news site Rappler CEO and editor Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos has been reset to 12 April 2019 to give Manila RTC Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Mendoza enough time to decide their Motion to Quash dated 26 February 2019.

Ressa and Santos, through their lawyers, asked the court to dismiss the libel charges filed against them because the facts in the Information had failed to establish a crime and the prescription period for the alleged crime had already expired. Libel has been a criminal offense in the Philippine for 87 years. A conviction for cyber libel can mean imprisonment from a minimum of four years to a maximum of eight years per count.

The libel case is based on a May 2012 Rappler article alleging a connection between impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona and businessman Wilfredo Keng. Keng filed the libel complaint in October 2017 with the Cybercrime Division of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

NBI initially dismissed the complaint in February 2018, but reversed itself in March 2018 and recommended to the Department of Justice (DOJ) the filing of the libel case after Keng filed a supplemental complaint. The justice department found probable cause to indict Ressa, Santos in January 2019 and filed the Information before the Manila court in February 2019.

The 26 February 2019 Motion challenged the applicability of the “multiple republication” theory on online libel. It also argued that the prosecution is misapplying its own theory because no substantial changes were done to the May 2012 article. The DOJ claims that Rappler re-published the story in 2014, or two years after the Cyber Crime Prevention Act (Republic Act 10175) was passed

It questioned the ex post facto or retroactive application of the Republic Act No. 10175 to Ressa, Santos, and Rappler. The inclusion of Rappler, Inc. as an accused was also challenged. The Philippine Constitution prohibits the passage of any ex post facto law.

The Motion also argued that the crime of libel has already prescribed. The defense argued that RA 10175 did not create a new crime; hence, the one-year prescription period under the Revised Penal Code (RPC) for libel should apply.

Journalists and media organizations have been campaigning for the decriminalization of libel in the Philippines for decades. In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee described the libel provision in the RPC as “excessive” and in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  Together with other groups, journalists questioned the constitutionality of RA 10175 in 2012, including its provision on cyber libel, which raised the penalty for online libel by one degree, from a minimum of six months to a maximum of four years in the RPC libel law to a minimum of four years to a maximum of eight years.