Wrong move? Judge Montesa surprised why Ressa, co-accused didn’t take the stand
Even Judge Rainelda Estacio Montesa is surprised why Rappler executive editor Maria Angelita Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. declined to take the stand in the cyber liber case filed against them by businessman Wilfredo Keng.
In her decision, Montesa found it “notable” that their legal team, led by Ted Te of the Free Legal Assistance Group, did not present both accused despite the strong case established against them.
Montesa said Santos “could have proven the veracity of the imputations he made against Keng, specifically the latter’s alleged involvement in drug smuggling, human trafficking, and murder.
She said both Santos and Ressa, as Rappler’s top dog, “were both in the best position to testify that the article was published with “good motives and for justifiable ends.”
“It has been a long standing rule that the silence of an accused should not be taken against him, but such rule is not without exception.. In the early case of People v. Resano, the Supreme Court explained that when the prosecution has established a prima facie case, it may be necessary for the accused to take the stand to make a complete destruction of the prosecution’s prima facie case,” she said.
She said that as early as 15 November 2019, when she denied the demurrer to Keng’s evidence filed by Ressa and Santos, the court has “already ruled that the evidence for the prosecution is competent and sufficient to sustain the indictment or it has established a prima facie case against herein accused.
“Notwithstanding such ruling, both Santos, Jr. and Ressa did not testify to rebut the prosecution’s evidence,” said Montesa.
In her ruling handed down on June 15, Montesa found both Ressa and Santos guilty of cyber libel entenced them to six months and one day to up to six years in jail. Ressa and Santos, who will remain free on bail pending their appeal, has also been ordered to pay Keng P200,000 in moral damages and P200,000 in exemplary damages. Montesa found no liability against Rappler.
Keng’s lawyers said the libel case would not have been filed if only Ressa had allowed the posting of the businessman’s side of the story, which had been submitted by its reporter. Rappler editors claimed Keng’ story was “buried by more urgent news.”