MANILA – Businessman Wilfredo Keng on Monday said he had asked Rappler executive editor and chief executive officer Maria Ressa to correct false public accusations against him or to publish his side, but to no avail.
“It is of public record: My counsel had pleaded and begged with Rappler and Ressa to correct their false public accusations that I am a criminal, or at the very least, to publish my side. They refused. They have denied me my right to clear my name. Where else can I go to seek justice and protection but our courts? And so I did,” Keng said in a statement.
Keng filed the cyber libel suit 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.
“Today, with the judgment of conviction against Ressa and Santos promulgated by the Hon. Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa, I have been vindicated, at least, to the extent possible considering that the damage had already been done,” he added.
Keng reiterated that he filed the case, which has languished for three years, in his capacity as a private individual.
“This case is not a case of the government. I am a private citizen and this is a private suit. I filed my complaint prior to and independently of any case, the Philippine Government may have filed against Ressa. Unlike Ressa, who attended hearings but who refused to take the witness stand, I testified in open court because I believe that I am telling the truth. I went through all stages of the legal process with no shortcuts or exemptions,” he said.
Keng said he is engaged in legitimate business for 37 years and has no outstanding case before the courts.
Meanwhile, Ressa lamented the court’s decision.
“The decision for me is devastating because it essentially says that Rappler, that we are wrong,” Ressa said in a news conference after the promulgation.
Meanwhile, defense counsel Theodore Te said that Ressa and Santos may choose to apply for probation which would allow them to skip actual jail time.
“Its (penalty is) under six years so pwede (ang probation) (probation maybe allowed), not to say they will,” Te said.
Te said they are studying their options including possibly appealing the case to the Court of Appeals (CA).
Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa convicted Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel and sentenced them to imprisonment ranging from six months and one day to six years.
“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 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. (PNA)