Rappler case: PH Bar Association concerned law being used to silence gov’t critics

Rappler.com
'Law students and legal professionals alike look forward to how the courts will resolve threshold issues such as the purported retroactive application of the Cybercrime Prevention Act,' says the Philippine Bar Association

COURT APPEARANCE. Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa (with counsel Ted Te) files a motion to quash the cyber libel case filed by the justice department on behalf of businessman Wilfredo Keng at the Manila Regional Trial Court on March 1, 2019. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines –  The Philippine Bar Association on Friday, March 1, expressed concern that the libel provision of the cybercrime law is being used to silence critics of the government, even as it said it is closely watching the case filed by the justice department against Rappler. 

In their statement, the PBA, the country’s oldest voluntary lawyer organization, said it “views with serious concern how the law is being weaponized to silence critics and perceived enemies of the administration, rather than employing it as a means to realize the true majesty of the rule of law.”

The group urged Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa, her colleagues, and Filipinos to remain optimistic “in our collective power to overcome.”

The PBA said members of the country’s legal profession are close watching how the courts will resolve the cyber libel case filed by the Department of Justice against Rappler, Ressa, and former researcher Rey Santos Jr.

“The case is now sub judice and off limits to discussion of its merits,” the PBA said in a statement on Friday, March 1. (READ: TIMELINE: Rappler’s cyber libel case)

The group added: “Law students and legal professionals alike look forward to how the courts will resolve threshold issues, such as the purported retroactive application of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, possible prescription of the crime of libel, and the theory of continuous publication of online statements and articles.”

While the Rappler article was published in 2012, months before the cybercrime act enacted, and a complaint was filed only 5 years later, the DOJ still charged Rappler for cyber libel. It considered the typographical edits made on February 19, 2014, as “continuous publication.” Te argued that on that date the TRO was still in effect, so there was no law to apply this “republication rule.” The DOJ then argued that the cybercrime law had set a 12-year prescription period for libel case, instead of the one year under the Revised Penal Code. 

Ressa and Santos were supposed to be arraigned on Friday, March 1, before the Manila Reguonal Trial Court Branch 46, but the schedule was reset to give the DOJ time to respond to the Motion to Quash prepared by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) for Rappler.

Human rights lawyer Ted Te, who has taken on the case together with FLAG, said on Friday that the charges against Rappler are bringing up issues that may prompt a revisit of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. – Rappler.com