Ressa, Rappler's ex-staffer urge court to junk cyber libel raps

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 26) — Rappler chief Maria Ressa and the news company's former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. on Tuesday asked a Manila court to dismiss the cyber libel charge filed against them by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In a motion to quash filed before the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46, Ressa and Santos argued that the 2012 Rappler article which was the basis of the charge should not be covered by Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 as it was originally published four months before the measure took effect.

The charge stemmed from a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng in October 2017 over the article that said former Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was a subject of an impeachment trial, used a vehicle registered under Keng's name. The article, titled "CJ using SUVs of controversial businessman," was published in May 2012, but was updated in February 2014 due to a typographical error.

Ressa is currently out on bail after being arrested over the charge on February 13.

READ: Rappler CEO Maria Ressa arrested for alleged 'cyber libel'; bail rejected

In its resolution, the DOJ said "While we agree with respondents that the first publication of the article on 29 May 2012 is not covered by the Cybercrime Act of 2012, considering the law was promulgated only in September 2012, we cannot share the same view with respect to the 19 February 2014 publication."

It added the multiple publication rule says a single defamatory statement, if it is published many times, "gives rise to as many offenses as there are publications."

Ressa and Santos, however, argued that the DOJ "misapplie[d] the 'multiple republication' principle" and that the prescriptive period for cyber libel is only one year since the cybercrime law "does not define a new offense" as it "simply adds an additional means to commit libel."

"The only relevant act of supposed libel in this case is the original May 2012 article post, which under Article 90 and 91 of the Revised Penal Code gave the prosecution one year to prosecute," they said, adding that in the charges filed, the one year period of prescription has lapsed."

"While there is no doubt that multiple republication does not apply here and there is similarity no doubt that the prosecution's theory is based on an ex post facto application of law, even assuming arguendo that a new period of prescription of law, even conjured up o the basis of the increased penalty under section 6, any doubt must be resolved in the accused's favor, in favor of the shorter period of prescription and the abatement of this prosecution," Ressa and Santos said.