DOJ recommends filing of cyber libel charges vs. Rappler

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 5) — The Department of Justice recommended the filing of cyber libel charges to online news agency Rappler over a story published in 2012.

The resolution dated January 10, named Rappler CEO and executive director Maria Ressa, Reynaldo Santos Jr., Manuel Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Glenda Gloria, James Bitanga, Felicia Atienza, Dan Alber de Padua and Jose Maria Hofileña as respondents.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and businessman Wilfredo Keng are the complainants.

The resolution stemmed from a complaint filed by Keng in October 2017 over an article about him allegedly lending a vehicle to then Chief Justice Renato Corona.

In the Rappler article, Keng admitted he owned a black Suburban, but denied that Corona used it.

According to the resolution, Keng said the article was "subsequently updated, revised and/or edited" in 2014

Rappler was subpoenaed in January 2018 over the complaint.

The DOJ resolution said Keng asked Rappler to take down the article in 2012, to which Rappler refused. He added the article was "subsequently updated, revised and/or edited" in 2014, and remained on Rappler's website.

In 2017, Keng sought the NBI to "take appropriate actions against the persons responsible for the publication."

Rappler said because the story was published in 2012 and cyber libel was passed after, they could not be charged with it.

The resolution said, however, "The publication complained of imputes to complainant Keng the commission of crimes. It is clearly defamatory. Under Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code, every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown. The presumed malice is known as malice in law. The recognized exceptions, where malice in law is not present, are the absolutely or qualifiedly privileged communications."

It went on to say Rappler does not fall into any of the absolutely or qualifiedly privileged communications.

"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," the resolution said.

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."

A tweet on the issue posted by Ressa earlier said, "Ridiculous is tame to describe this latest weaponization of the law: the story was published 4 months before the law we allegedly violated was enacted ++ many more that form the new norm."

 

Meanwhile, an article published by Rappler on its website quoted Rappler counsel JJ Disini saying, "If the theory is that if a libelous article is published in the past, and continues to be accessible today, and that constitutes libel today, then no one is safe. Anyone that has a libelous article that continues to be accessible may be charged with libel, and, moving forward, this affects everyone, not just media, even blogger."