MANILA – Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa can apply for probation over her cyber libel conviction to avoid imprisonment, Malacañang said on Tuesday.
In a virtual presser aired on government-owned PTV-4, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Ressa need not end up in prison following her conviction.
“The sentence of Ressa is it is subject to probation. Ibig sabihin, walang kulong kung tatanggapin ang desisyon at maga-apply ng probation (Meaning, she can apply for probation and she can be scot-free if her application is approved),” said Roque, who is also a lawyer.
A person convicted of a criminal offense, when granted probation, can continue living in the community instead of going to prison as long as he or she follows the terms and conditions set by the judge or the probation officer.
Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa convicted Ressa and former research-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel and sentenced them to imprisonment ranging from six months and one day to six years.
The decision against Ressa and Santos stemmed from the 2017 cyber libel suit lodged by businessman Wilfred Keng.
Keng filed the case against Ressa and Santos after Rappler published the May 29, 2012 article, accusing him of lending his sports utility vehicle to then Chief Justice Renato Corona who at that time was facing an impeachment complaint.
Roque said Ressa would lose the privilege of skipping the actual jail time, should she choose to make an appeal.
“Pero kung siya po ay aapela, mawawala ang pribilehiyo na wala ng kulong. At kapag siya ay nag-apela at natalo pa siya, kulong talaga siya (When she appeals, she will lose the privilege of avoiding jail time. And when she loses her appeal, she will be jailed),” he said.
Critics have claimed that Duterte is behind the conviction of Ressa, who is known critic of the President.
Roque, however, maintained that President Rodrigo Duterte has no hand in Ressa’s case.
He reiterated that the cyber libel case against Ressa and Santos was filed by Keng who is a “private individual.”
“Wala pong katuturan iyan. Ang kaso po ni Maria Ressa, pribadong indibidwal po ang nag-kaso sa kaniya. Hindi po gobyerno, hindi taong gobyerno, ni hindi pulitiko (The accusation was baseless. A private individual filed a case against Maria Ressa. That person is not from the government, not a government worker nor a politician),” Roque said.
Roque also blamed Theodore Te, the legal counsel of Ressa and Santos.
He said malice is already presumed in law when the complainant is a private individual.
He, however, noted that Te failed to present any evidence to disprove malice.
“Eh paano namang hindi mako-convict si Maria Ressa eh hindi naman sila nag-introduce ng evidence na wala silang malice (Maria Ressa was convicted because they did not introduce evidence that would prove that there is no malice),” Roque said. “Ni walang kahit anong ebidensya (There is no evidence presented).” (PNA)