MANILA – A Manila court on Monday has found Rappler executive editor and chief executive officer Maria Angelita Ressa and writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. guilty of cyber libel.
Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa sentenced the two to imprisonment ranging from six months and one day to six years.
Defense counsel Theodore Te, in a press briefing after the promulgation, said they are studying their options including possibly appealing the case to the Court of Appeals (CA).
“The exercise of freedom should and must be used with due regard to the freedom of others. As Nelson Mandela said ‘for to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others’,” Estacio-Montesa said in her ruling.
Ressa and Santos were ordered to pay the complainant, businessman Wilfred Keng PHP400,000 in moral and exemplary damages.
The court found no corporate liability on the part of Rappler Inc. and “noted” the amicus curiae brief filed by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye.
An amicus curiae is someone who is not a party to a case who assists a court by offering information, expertise, or insight that has a bearing on the issues in the case.
In May last year, a not guilty plea on behalf of the two accused was ordered entered into the records by the court after Ressa and Santos declined to enter a plea after Estacio-Montessa declined to dismiss the case.
The court, in April last year, ruled that online publishers could be sued within 12 years from the publication of an allegedly libelous report.
The suit was filed by Keng after he was named by Rappler as the owner of a sports utility vehicle (SUV) used by the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, who had been subjected to impeachment proceedings in 2012.
In an earlier statement, Keng said he filed the case to vindicate his name in court and allow Rappler to “show the truth of basis of their defamatory report”.
“However, Ressa and Santos did not even attend to testify in the hearings. While I personally testified in the hearings because I believe I am telling the truth,” Keng said.
He also slammed Ressa’s claim that the case is a suppression of press freedom.
“That is only a convenient excuse she peddles to escape accountability. I am fighting for my rights and for accountability. No one should be above the law,” he added. (PNA)