Ressa, Rappler reporter charged with cyber libel over ‘Thesis for sale’ story; post bail
MANILA, Philippines — Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and a reporter of the online news site were charged with cyber libel over an article about College of St. Benilde students who allegedly paid a professor to pass their thesis subject.
The case, which stemmed from an article written by Rambo Talabong titled “Thesis for sale: Benilde students say they paid P20,000 to pass” published on January 23, 2020, was filed by Benilde professor Ariel Pineda.
In a resolution dated December 7, 2020, Senior Assistant City Prosecutor John Allen Fariñas of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 24 said “there is reasonable ground to believed that the offense charged has been committed” based on the sworn statement and other evidence submitted to the court.
Ressa and Talabong voluntarily surrendered after the issuance of an arrest warrant and posted P30,000 bail each, according to their lawyer Ted Te. Their arraignment is set on February 4.
Te said the case is “disturbing because it seems like cyber libel is now the first option in case of disagreement on reporting.”
“That is the problem with libel and cyber libel laws which make these acts criminal — a private dispute becomes a public offense where the government gets involved; as a result, the implications on freedom of expression and of the press are significant,” Te said.
“Perhaps Congress should consider whether it is high time to decriminalize libel and cyber libel,” he added.
In a separate statement, Rappler said it stands by the story and also pushed for the decriminalization of libel.
“While libel suits are part of the risks that come with the profession, we also know that they are a tool that is used to intimidate journalists who expose wrongdoing,” the online news site said.
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