Maria Ressa cyber libel case proceeds to trial at Manila court

MANILA, Philippines – The trial of Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa for one charge of cyber libel will proceed in July at the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC).

Manila RTC Branch 46 has scheduled on July 23 the first day of trial proper, Ressa’s lawyer Ted Te said on Friday, June 21, after a pre-trial hearing at the Manila court.

Ressa, and co-accused Rappler's former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr, previously engaged in a mediation meeting with complainant Wilfredo Keng but no settlement was reached, according to Te.

“The mediation was an attempt to see if there can be a settlement to the possible civil liability. Because the criminal case cannot be amicably settled, there was no settlement reached, the usual procedure is to defer it back to the trial court,” said Te.

The pre-trial on Friday identified witnesses and marked documents. Keng will be one of the prosecution witnesses. He has not appeared in a single court hearing since it started.

Te had previously indicated possible plans of taking the case to the Supreme Court.

The legal questions that could be challenged before the High Court are the prosecution's theory of continuing publication, and the prescription period for cyber libel.

The Department of Justice extended what was only a one-year prescription period for ordinary libel to 12 years for cyber libel.

The article was also written months before the Cybercrime Law was enacted in 2012, but the prosecution used the theory of continuing publication, especially because the article online reflected a later date in 2014, when some typographical errors were belatedly corrected.

Rappler has argued that the Supreme Court has already declared unconstitutional the provision penalizing aiding and abetting a cybercrime. Te argued before Branch 46 that aiding and abetting and continuous publication are the same in this context.

Te said on Friday that as of now, the plan is to let the prosecution present its evidence first.

“We are always given the option of demurring should the evidence not be sufficient, it depends,” said Te.

Demurring refers to the filing of a demurrer to evidence, which is a pleading that the defense team files right after the prosecution presentation to seek an outright dismissal of the case.

'I rise'

Ressa said her trial is meant to “take our eyes off the ball.”

“While we were in court, Ambassador Albert del Rosario was held in Hong Kong, he’s still there, all these stories we’re supposed to be covering, and you guys are here,” Ressa said.

Ressa said she was on her way to the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) to prove her return from a trip to Taiwan. As a defendant in 8 charges so far, pending before 3 different courts, she has to always seek court permission to go abroad. 

For a day trip to Taiwan, Ressa said she was asked to pay a P700,000-travel bond.

Ressa was also asked for her reaction to her court battles being featured in Madonna's latest music video featuring her song 'I rise' that shows different protests globally.

"It's interesting to see what's happening globally, the title of the song is 'I rise.' In context of what's going on in Hong Kong, in context of us Filipinos, this is the time to protect our rights, so, I rise," Ressa said. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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