CA junks appeal to reverse cyber libel conviction of Ressa, former Rappler writer

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 11) — The Court of Appeals (CA) denied the plea of Rappler CEO and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos to reverse their cyber libel conviction.

Ressa and Santos filed a motion for reconsideration (MR) on the CA's July decision which upheld the guilty verdict handed down by a Manila court in June 2020. 

In an Oct. 10 resolution released on Tuesday, the CA's Fourth Division said the MR is “unmeritorious” and just “mere reiterations” of points already addressed.

Besides affirming the Manila court’s ruling to convict Ressa and Santos, the CA also earlier lengthened the maximum prison time to up to six years, eight months and 20 days. The minimum was set at six months and one day.

The case stemmed from a May 2012 Rappler article which reported on businessman Wilfredo Keng’s alleged connection to illegal activities. Keng filed a complaint in October 2017, or nearly five years after the article was posted.

The story was initially published months before the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was passed. However, the prosecution contended that the article was updated in February 2014. Rappler said the update only involved correction of typographical errors.

Next stop: Supreme Court

Ressa and Santos will elevate the case to the Supreme Court (SC), said their lawyer Theodore “Ted” Te.

Te said the CA ruling “ignored basic principles of constitutional and criminal law as well as the evidence presented.”

Ressa also expressed disappointment but said she is “sadly not surprised” by the development.

“The ongoing campaign of harassment and intimidation against me and Rappler continues, and the Philippines legal system is not doing enough to stop it,” her statement read. “This is a reminder of the importance of independent journalism holding power to account.”

In dismissing the MR, the CA argued that the conviction is not meant to curtail the freedom of speech. It said the cybercrime law intends “to curb, if not totally prevent, the reckless and unlawful use" of computer systems to commit criminal offenses.

Meanwhile, Santos said he remains hopeful that the Supreme Court will overturn the conviction.

"The CA's decision to deny our motion is not surprising, but it’s disheartening nevertheless. As we elevate our case to the SC, our fight against intimidation and suppression of freedom continues. We still believe that the rule of law will prevail,” he said.