Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher Rey Santos Jr. have asked the Court of Appeals (CA) to overturn its July 7, 2022 decision upholding the cyber libel conviction against them by a trial court.
In a 32-page motion for reconsideration filed July 22, Ressa and Santos pleaded the CA to set aside the Manila City Regional Trial Court’s decision in 2020 convicting them of cyber libel with payment of damages in favor of complainant Wilfredo Keng.
“The attacks against Rappler are political, not legal, aimed at preventing us from doing our jobs as journalists,” Ressa said in a statement.
“The legal acrobatics in multiple cases filed against me to take away my freedom bend the rule of law until it’s broken. I appeal to the justices to uphold the spirit of the law that holds our democracy together,” she added.
Ressa and Santos asserted that the trial court erred when it ruled that the prescription of cyber libel should be 15 years and not one year.
They also argued that the appellate court committed an error when it held that a correction of a typographical error in a story meant republication and that businessman Wilfredo Keng was not a subject of public interest when it was released in May 2012.
“The Supreme Court has previously upheld the finding that wealthy businessmen who are ‘well-known, highly-regarded, and recognized in business circles’ are public figures under the rubric of the actual malice standard,” the motion stated.
Ressa and Santos also said the investigation that involved Keng “is not a function of actual malice and is merely the logical conclusion of journalistic duty.”
The movants asserted that the court erred in holding that the element of actual malice was proven beyond reasonable doubt.
The appellants said the prosecution did not prove that they knew, at the time of the publication, that the statement was false or decided to proceed “with reckless disregard of whether it was false.”
“The actual malice standard requires the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendants knew the statements were false or nonetheless proceeded with reckless disregard to publish it whether or not it was true,” it said.
They added that the Court erred in holding that the principle of republication applies in cyber libel and that there was a republication in the first place.
“There was no separate act of publication here. The correction of a typographical error on an online article… is too trivial to constitute a separate act of publication,” it read, adding that the Cybercrime Protection Act did not define republication as a source of criminal liability.
Besides, Ressa and Santos said the CA erred when it held Ressa liable simply for being the chief executive officer of Rappler, saying that the prosecution failed to prove that Ressa had a hand in the authorship of the article.
In a statement, legal counsel Ted Te challenged the Court of Appeals to look at international trends on the decriminalization of libel.
“The Supreme Court itself, in the recent case of Tulfo, expressed doubts on the constitutionality of criminalizing libel. I think it is high time that this conversation about decriminalizing libel continue,” Te said.
“It is our hope that the Court of Appeals will consider this in resolving our motion for reconsideration,” he added.