Lawyers’ group asks court to dismiss cyberlibel case vs Rappler chief
MANILA, Philippines – A group of human rights lawyers on Tuesday asked the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) to dismiss the cyberlibel complaint against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and co-accused, former reporter Reynaldo Santos.
In a motion to quash, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) said Ressa and Santos cannot be prosecuted of an offense that does not exist when the alleged libelous article was posted online.
The article in question was written by Santos in May 2012, claiming that businessman Wilfredo Keng lent his sports utility vehicle to then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Apart from this, the story also cited an intelligence report that said Keng had been under surveillance by the National Security Council for alleged involvement in human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Keng filed the cyberlibel complaint, stating that the 2012 article was re-posted in February 2014.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) approved and filed the cyberlibel case in court.
The DOJ explained that an updated version of the assailed article posted on Rappler’s website on February 19, 2014 was covered by Republic Act (RA) 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act.
RA 10175 was enacted in September 2012 giving the Department of Justice (DOJ) the justification that while the first posting of the article in 2012 is not covered by the law, the “republication” on February 2014 can already be subjected to cyberlibel prosecution.
But FLAG, in its motion to quash, argued that Ressa and Santos still cannot be prosecuted for cyberlibel because technically, the Cybercrime Prevention Act is still non-existent in February 2014, with the temporary restraining order issued by the High Court.
Various parties have questioned the legality of the Cybercrime Prevention Act before the high court that it stopped its implementation through a temporary restraining order (TRO) and lifted it only on April 2014.
“The alleged republication was done on February 19, 2014, when the TRO was still in effect…During the duration of the TRO, there was effectively no RA 10175 by judicial fiat…This court has to obey the Constitution, the law, and the decisions of the Supreme Court,” read the motion.
In the same motion, FLAG also said that the DOJ misapplied the “republication rule.”
The DOJ, in its resolution said that republishing the 2012 article in 2014 gives rise to a separate offense or as many offenses as there are publications.
But FLAG, through Atty. Theodore Te said the Supreme Court 1988 ruling it cited is not an en banc or a full court ruling.
“It is a Third Division decision that binds only the parties thereto. It is canonical that only decisions of the Supreme Court En Banc are vested with authoritativeness or precedential character,” read the motion.
The motion added that the 1988 case also made reference to print media when it comes to “multiple republication.”
“In the absence of any law or Supreme Court decision that adopts ‘multiple republication’ as a principle applicable specifically to online media, there is no basis for the prosecution’s reliance on [the 1988 case],” read the motion./gsg
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