Businessman Wilfredo Keng’s legal team is growing in his cyber libel case against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr.
Lawyers Magilyn Loja and Carlos Villaruz from the prominent Esguerra and Blanco law firm entered their appearance for Keng during a hearing on Friday, August 16, at the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC).
Villaruz appeared as counsel for Senator Bong Revilla in his plunder case before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, and Loja appeared as counsel for fugitive Peter Lim during the hearings at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
With the addition of their firm, there are now 3 private prosecutors against Ressa and Santos, who are both represented by former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).
“They’re more on advisory, so we can sure-up the case,” said lead counsel Joseph Banguis. Banguis is also collaborating with co-lead counsel Ryan Cruz. (READ: A look into a libel trial: First witnesses up in Maria Ressa case)
Keng’s legal team presented on Friday two letters from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), one from 2016 and one from 2019, which certify that the businessman had no “derogatory record” in the agency.
The article in question, written by Santos, cited an intelligence report which quoted information by the National Security Council that Keng was supposedly involved in “human trafficking and drug smuggling.” The article was about how former chief justice Renato Corona was using vehicles linked to businessmen, one of them Keng.
Florina Cureg, an information systems specialist from PDEA, testified on the authenticity of the letters. During cross examination, Te asked the witness the extent of intelligence in the PDEA database. The same database was used to issue the clearances for Keng.
“National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and PDEA’s own intelligence,” replied Cureg.
Banguis said their next witness would be lawyer Leonard de Vera, who used to represent Keng.
“(He will testify) on the steps that they took to request Rappler to take town down the article. He facilitated that,” Banguis said.
The Keng team has withdrawn as witness former NBI cybercrime chief Manuel Antonio Eduarte. Eduarte was the one who initially dismissed Keng’s complaint at his level, but flip-flopped to elevate the case to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“Because whatever proceedings in the NBI, it’s no longer relevant because it reached the DOJ and the DOJ already found probable cause,” Banguis said in Filipino.
Banguis had earlier said they did not intend to call Ressa and Santos to the stand, but they did list as among their 7 witnesses two Rappler journalists – editor-at-large Marites Vitug and former researcher-writer Katerina Francisco.
Banguis said the Rappler journalists will be examined on the issue of Keng’s prior requests to take down the article.
The next hearing is on August 27. – Rappler.com