By Raïssa Robles
I cannot believe that the National Bureau of Investigation is taking seriously a complaint of cyber libel against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. and Rappler investor Benjamin Bitanga.
This crime did not exist at the time that Rappler had published a news story which mentioned the aggrieved ethnic Chinese businessman Wilfredo Keng who had filed the complaint.
To countercheck my gut feel that there was no case, I talked to three lawyers. All of them told me the same thing: You cannot be hauled to court for a crime that did not yet exist in the law books.
Two of them agreed to be quoted by name for my story in South China Morning Post (HK):
Philippine news website Rappler says 2012 cyber libel claims are ‘political in nature’
The allegations came just days before the site had its business licence revoked for violations of the country’s foreign media ownership laws
By Raïssa Robles
Rights advocates have challenged allegations that Philippines news website Rappler committed cyber libel with a story published in 2012, almost two years before legislation for such online crimes had come into effect.
The complaint came a day before the Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission on January 11 cancelled Rappler’s business licence for alleged violations of the country’s foreign media ownership laws – a charge the site denies and has called a “concerted effort to turn journalism into a crime”.
In a subpoena from the National Bureau of Investigation, dated January 10, businessman Wilfredo Keng accused the site’s chief executive Maria Ressa, investor Benjamin Bitanga and justice reporter Reynaldo Santos Jnr of online libel in the May 2012 article headlined “CJ using SUVs of ‘controversial’ businessmen”.
The five-year-old story said a luxury vehicle being used by chief justice at the time, Renato Corona, was registered to Keng. The businessman denied the claims, saying he did own a black Suburban with the number plate ZWK 111, but it was not the one used by the chief justice.
One of Keng’s companies had a pending case in a lower court at the time, Rappler also reported.
However, rights experts said Keng’s complaint is invalid because the article was dated before Filipino cyber libel laws had taken effect.
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