Maria Ressa again charged with cyber libel, seeks case dismissal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 3) — Rappler CEO Maria Ressa has been charged for the second time with cyber libel over her Twitter post where she shared a news website’s article on businessman Wilfredo Keng, according to documents obtained Thursday.

Keng is the same complainant behind the cyber libel suit that resulted in the conviction of Ressa and former Rappler staffer Reynaldo Santos Jr. in June. Two months before the verdict, Keng filed the second complaint against Ressa at the Makati City Prosecutor's Office.

The case centers on Ressa's 2019 tweet which read: "Here’s the 2002 article on the 'private businessman' who filed the cyber libel case, which was thrown out by the NBI then revived by the DOJ. #HoldTheLine."

It contained screenshots of the article, which identified Keng as the "influential Chinese businessman" being eyed as a suspect in the ambush-slay of a former Manila councilor. Keng said he has never been investigated nor charged for any criminal activity.

On Nov. 23, Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Mark Anthony Nuguit filed the cyber libel case against Ressa at the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 147. He said the journalist’s tweet was done “willfully, unlawfully, feloniously, publicly and maliciously – with the intention of attacking the honesty, virtue, honor, integrity, character, and reputation” of Keng.

Ressa's defense

Ressa’s camp filed a motion to quash on Wednesday, in a bid to junk the case. Ressa argued that she is not the author of the article that was found defamatory, and should not be held liable for sharing it. She added the sentence she used in describing the article was just factual.

“By any reasonable and unbiased reading, the sentence is not defamatory—read singly, none of the words are; read together, the sentence is not,” Ressa’s motion read.

It added that she was merely keeping the public informed as part of her job as a journalist, and exercising her freedom of expression and of opinion as a citizen.

The Makati City Prosecutor's Office earlier endorsed Ressa’s indictment, recommending her arrest and a bail of ₱48,000. In its Nov. 10 resolution, the state prosecutor recognized Ressa’s defense that her Twitter post was made “in lawful exercise of her right to express her thoughts and ideas.”

The resolution said, however, that “libel is not a protected speech under the Constitution.” It added that although Ressa claims she merely shared an old article, it was not a knee-jerk reaction, “hence, she should be held liable for the consequences of her Twitter post.”

The resolution also noted that in sharing the tweet, Ressa did not ask for Keng’s side and “acted with reckless disregard whether the contents of the Twitter post was false or not.”

Rappler's fight

In June, the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 convicted Ressa and Santos of cyber libel over a 2012 investigative article which reported on Keng's alleged connection to illegal activities. Ressa and Santos are free on bail.

The high-profile case hogged international headlines as opposition groups and human rights advocates see it as part of government's crackdown against media critical of President Rodrigo Duterte. Malacañang said the conviction was not politically motivated, stressing that the case was filed by Keng, a private complainant.

Ressa is also facing tax evasion charges. Rappler said she has been arrested twice, posted bail nine times.

"Rappler will follow the judicial process and face the string of cases filed against us," the news site said in a tweet.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.