Rappler CEO Maria Ressa faces NBI over online libel complaint

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 22) - Rappler CEO Maria appeared before the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Monday, complying with the subpoena over an online libel complaint.

The NBI issued the subpoenas dated January 10 for Ressa, former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos, and businessman Benjamin Bitanga for the October 2017 complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng.

The case stemmed from a 2012 Rappler story on Keng lending his sports utility vehicle to impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.

After meeting with the NBI Cybercrime Division officials for less than an hour, Ressa said the meeting was "cordial."

"Although friendly, obviously I still see this as part of a continuing pattern to harass or and to shut down Rappler.

I think this is a concerted effort to turn journalism into a crime," Ressa said. Rappler was given 10 days to file a counter-affidavit.

Rappler story published before cybercrime law

NBI Cybercrime Division chief Manuel Eduarte said the 2012 article is still covered by the anti-cybercrime law even if the story was published in May 2012, before the law,  Republic Act No. 10175, was enacted in September.

Lawyer Marnie Tonson of the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance, however, said criminal cases are not retroactive.

Ressa on Monday supported the argument.

"Cyber libel was passed after. This was a 2012 case," she said.

Keng, however, insisted he only learned of the Rappler article at a later time, an argument which the Rappler camp warned could have implications.

"Then no one is safe. Anyone that has libelous article that continues to be accessible today may charged with libel… this affects not just media outlets but also even bloggers. People who published some (libelous article) maybe 10 years ago," Rappler lawyer JJ Disini said.

He said mere accessibility of an online story cannot be a defense.

"That the fact the article is still accessible means that it is published today. That the libel is being committed today. Then it's problematic I think for free speech," he added.

Embattled Rappler

Aside from the cybercrime case, Rappler is also facing license cancellation.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in a decision dated January 11, revoked Rappler's license. The SEC said the company was liable for violating SEC rules by engaging in a fraudulent transaction and circumventing constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership.

The NBI clarified there is no link between the two cases against Rappler.

"Timing not within our control. We are already investigating this case when the issue about SEC and Rappler cropped up and the instruction by the DOJ for us conduct the probe. Walang koneksyon. Nagkataon lang (There is no connection. It's coincidental)," Eduarte said.