Jun 16, 2020 @ 14:07

IBP prexy: Maria Ressa cyberlibel case not yet over

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines on Tuesday reminded the public that the conviction of Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa for cyberlibel is not yet final and still appealable.

“As the verdict is not final, we urge everyone to stick to the facts, refrain from labeling, and support a timely resolution of the remaining issues. JUSTICE BILIS not JUSTICE TIIS,” Atty. Domingo Egon Cayosa, IBP national president, said in a statement.

While procedural due process was properly observed by the trial court, Cayosa, however, underscored the need to settle the varying interpretations on jurisdiction and ‘republications’ of news materials.

“May the case highlight the need for CLARITY in our laws to leave less room for interpretation or misapplication and fortify our courage to uphold the rule of law,” Cayosa said.

Last Monday, the Manila regional trial court on Monday found Ressa, and former writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. both guilty of cyberlibel, reiterating that press freedom is not absolute.

In a 37-page decision, Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa of Branch 46 sentenced Ressa and Santos to a maximum prison term of 6 years for violation of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act

Also, Ressa – a former reporter of CNN and staunch critic of maverick Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte – and Santos were ordered to pay jointly and severally complainant Wilfredo Keng the amount of P200, 000 as moral damages and P200, 000 as exemplary damages.

In its ruling, the court ruled that “freedom of the press should not be used as a shield for accountability.”

“With the evolution of government and society, it has been accepted and established that the exercise of the right to free speech and of the press is not absolute as it comes with enormous responsibility to ensure that another person’s right is respected,” the decision said.

Furthermore, the court found the news article as defamatory after Rappler failed to offer proof of its disclosure against the complainant.

Ressa was not immediately taken into custody after she posted bail for her temporary liberty.

For his part, Free Legal Assistance Group lawyer Theodore Te, counsel of Ressa and Santos, disclosed that they will appeal the decision of the judge.

“The right to free speech and freedom of the cannot and should not be used as a shield against accountability. The court sets out parameters for this accountability. If a person is found violating this law in accordance with the parameters it provides, then he or she is penalized and will be held accountable,” the court’s decision read in part.

The court added that if a private citizen or a ‘netizen’ can be held accountable for any posts or comments in the internet,” so too must accountability and journalistic responsibility be brought to bear upon online news organizations since the extent of its influence…goes beyond the physical limitation of printed publications.”

The court noted that Keng reached out to Rappler for seven months persuading the popular online news outfit to publish his side. All his pleas for a balanced news, however, fell to deaf ears.

” What further militates against the defense of both accused is that Keng pleaded to them to publish a clarificatory article, or at the very least, to air his side of the story. Yet again, both accused did nothing,” the decision said.

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