Manila court allows Maria Ressa to travel abroad

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 14) — The Manila Regional Trial Court allowed Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, who is facing a cyber libel case, to travel outside the country.

Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa of Branch 46 initially set the travel bond at ₱500,000 but Ressa moved to reduce it to ₱100,000 for each trip. The court granted Ressa's motion, setting the bond at ₱300,000 for all her three travel dates.

Ressa asked the court's permission to travel to Singapore this month, and to Italy and the U.S. in April.

In granting her motion, the court said Ressa's travel will not deprive it of the power to exercise its jurisdiction over her. It pointed out Ressa attached her travel itinerary including her confirmed return tickets to the Philippines.

"Further, her position as the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Editor of Rappler, Inc., which has its principal office address at Pasig City, diminished the risk of flight," it added.

The court reiterated the constitutional right to travel is part of liberty which a citizen cannot be deprived of, without due process. But it also stressed this right is not absolute as "it is subject to constitutional statutory, and inherent limitations."

"One of the inherent limitations is the power of courts to prohibit persons charged with a crime from leaving the country," it explained.

The court also reset Ressa's arraignment from April 12 to April 16. Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. are facing a cyber libel charge that stemmed from a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng in October 2017.

The complaint was in connection with an article that said former Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was a subject of an impeachment trial, used a vehicle registered under Keng's name. The article was published in May 2012 - months before Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was enacted - but was updated in February 2014 due to a typographical error.

READ: Ressa, Rappler's ex-staffer urge court to junk cyber libel raps

Ressa is currently out on bail after being arrested over the charge last February 13. Groups see the cases against Rappler as a violation of press freedom and an attack on media critical of the administration. The Rappler head was among journalists hailed by Time Magazine as 2018 Person of the Year and dubbed as "guardians on the war on truth."

READ: Rappler CEO calls arrest 'abuse of power'