cyber libel in the Philippines

Global media groups urge SC to overturn Maria Ressa’s cyber libel conviction

Jairo Bolledo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Global media groups urge SC to overturn Maria Ressa’s cyber libel conviction

NOBEL LAUREATE. Rappler CEO Maria Ressa speaks at the Social Good Summit on September 16, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

In a brief submitted to the Philippines' Supreme Court, the groups warn that the verdict, if not overturned, would have 'a profound chilling effect' on the press

MANILA, Philippines – International press freedom groups submitted an amicus curiae brief or expert opinion to the Supreme Court (SC), urging it to overturn the cyber libel conviction of Rappler chief executive officer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr.

In their amicus curiae brief filed on Thursday, June 13, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Ressa and Santos’ conviction is not only a breach of the Philippines’ international obligations, but also betrays the “press freedom legacy the court has reaffirmed for more than a century.” The filing was announced on Tuesday, June 18.

Amici curiae or “friends of the court” are usually invited by a court to give their insights on cases. In this instance, the CPJ, ICFJ, and RSF were not invited as experts, but rather provided their opinion to the SC on their own initiative. It’s up to the High Court whether or not to accept the groups’ amicus curiae brief.

In the brief, the groups argued that Ressa and Santos’ case, as well as the Philippine government’s criminalization of libel, are “misaligned with current best legal practices and incompatible with international law.”

“The prospect of facing criminal liability for allegedly misreporting facts – or worse yet, being punished for accurate reporting – will have a profound chilling effect, discouraging journalists from wading into the sensitive topics that often are the subjects of greatest public concern,” they said.

“This, in turn, undermines the public’s right of access to information and erodes freedom of expression more generally – costs that are hugely disproportionate to the interest the libel charges are ostensibly protecting.”

The groups said Natalie Reid, co-chair of the Public International Law Group at Debevoise, was the principal author of the brief, in collaboration with Kristina Conti of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in the Philippines.

If the SC accepts the amicus curiae brief of the CPJ, ICFJ, and RSF, theirs would be the third in the Ressa and Santos case. Back in March, the High Court had allowed United Nations Special Rapporteur Irene Khan to appear as an amicus curiae in the case. The SC also allowed the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute to file its opinion.

Khan earlier said her opinion would include “the international and regional legal standards as they apply to freedom of expression, especially regarding its application to the law of defamation.”

In 2020, a Manila court convicted Ressa and Santos of cyber libel over charges filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng. The case stemmed from Santos’ May 2012 article on the late former chief justice Renato Corona’s links to businessmen, including Keng.

Two years later, in 2022, the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling and imposed a longer prison sentence. The CA also junked the motion for reconsideration filed by Ressa in October 2022.

The case, which stands as a test of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, is now pending before the High Court. The law was enacted only in September 2012, or four months after the publication of the article in question. –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Avatar photo


Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.