Maria Ressa faces 3rd cyber libel case

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — Rappler CEO Maria Ressa is facing her third cyber libel case, this time, over an article written by reporter Rambo Talabong on a college professor's alleged involvement in a thesis-for-sale scheme.

Documents obtained by CNN Philippines on Thursday show the charges reaching Branch 24 of the Regional Trial Court of Manila on Jan. 8, filed by Senior Assistant City Prosecutor John Allen Farinas.

The state prosecutor said Ressa, as editor, and Talabong, as writer, conspired to publish a January 23, 2020 article titled 'Thesis for sale: Benilde students say they paid ₱20,000 to pass', with the "malicious intent" of damaging the reputation of Ariel Pineda, then head of the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde's Export Management Program.

The article was based on an October 2019 complaint filed by AK Paras, who learned from at least two fellow students that their thesis groups paid Pineda ₱20,000 through a middleman, in exchange for passing the program. The college confirmed investigating the case, while Pineda did not reply to Rappler’s emails, according to the article.

The story contained "false, malicious, derogatory, and highly libelous imputation as well as offensive insinuations" against Pineda, the prosecution said, citing results of a preliminary investigation.

Ressa, Talabong post bail

A warrant of arrest has been issued against Ressa and Tabalong, who already surrendered to authorities and posted bail of ₱30,000 each, said their counsel, Theodore Te. Arraignment is set for February 4.

"We are studying the resolution, which we disagree with, and will exhaust all possible legal remedies to have the same dismissed," Te said in a statement on Thursday. "It is disturbing because it seems like cyber libel is now the first option in case of disagreement on reporting.”

Rappler stood by the story, reiterating the call to decriminalize libel to stop the harassment of journalists.

"I spent weeks reporting and weeks more doing everything to ensure that the story is fair," Talabong said. "This case further proves that decriminalizing libel is imperative. No journalist should be intimidated for doing their job." 

Ressa's other cases

In June 2020, Ressa and former Rappler staffer Reynaldo Santos, Jr. were convicted for cyber libel over a 2012 investigative article which reported on businessman Wilfredo Keng's alleged connection to illegal activities. Ressa and Santos are free on bail.

Critics and human rights advocates said the case is part of the government's crackdown on 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’s second cyber libel case stems from another complaint filed by Keng over a tweet, where she shared a news website's article on his alleged involvement in the ambush-slay of a former Manila councilor. Ressa's camp has filed an appeal, mainly arguing she is not the author of the article that was found defamatory, and should not be held liable for merely sharing it.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.