Cyber libel investigation vs Rappler starts rolling at DOJ



MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) has begun its preliminary investigation into the cyber libel complaint against Rappler.

The case was assigned to Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Edwin Dayog, and Assistant State Prosecutors Florencio Dela Cruz and Jeanette Dacpano.

The next hearing has been set on April 10 when complainant Wilfredo Keng will subscribe to his complaint. Complaints and affidavits are supposed to be subscribed to in the presence of a public prosecutor.

Main respondents Maria Ressa, CEO and Executive Editor of Rappler, and Reynaldo Santos Jr, the author of the story in question, did not appear in the first hearing on Monday, March 26.

The only counter-affidavit submitted to the DOJ so far is from Jose Maria G. Hofileña, Rappler’s former corporate secretary.

The complaint was transmitted to the DOJ by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) despite an announcement by the bureau’s cybercrime chief that the probe had been terminated due to lack of basis.

Complaint 

The complaint filed by Keng stems from a 2012 article by Santos that links him to the late former chief justice Renato Corona.

Legal issues involving the complaint includes the non-retroactive Cybercrime Law. The law was passed in September 2012, when the article was posted earlier, in May that year.

The prescriptive period is also in question because Keng filed the complaint only in 2017 when the crime of libel extinguishes in one year, according to the revised penal code (RPC).

Rappler’s lawyer Jose Jesus "JJ" Disini said that pursuing the cyber libel case against Rappler would make the Cybercrime Law unconstitutional.

Article III, Section 22 of the Constitution says “no ex post facto law or bill of attainder shall be enacted.”

An ex post facto law punishes an act which was otherwise innocent before the law was passed.

“The crime of online libel didn't exist in May 2012. If the respondents are charged by the government, it would make the cybercrime act an ex post facto law and unconstitutional,” Disini said.

“Because in effect it will be made to apply to acts committed before the law went into effect in 2012,” he added.

The DOJ is hearing an entirely separate complaint of tax evasion filed against Rappler by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).

The NBI has an ongoing investigation into Rappler for alleged corporate foreign control, a charge that the company has denied. – Rappler.com