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Philippine journalists file motion seeking to reverse cyberlibel conviction

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MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer) — Journalists Maria Ressa and  Reynaldo Santos Jr. on Monday filed a motion for partial reconsideration at a Manila court seeking to reverse the judge’s decision convicting them of cyberlibel.

CNN's former lead investigative reporter in Asia, Ressa is chief executive officer of Rappler, an online news website, while Santos is a former reporter/researcher of Rappler.

In their 132-page motion, lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group or FLAG representing both Ressa and Santos cited 13 errors in Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa’s June 15 verdict, saying the court’s role in the trial was “to determine malice, not make malicious statements.”

In her 36-page decision, Montesa said Santos’ May 2012 story detailing former Chief Justice Renato Corona’s use of vehicles registered under the name of property developer Wilfredo Keng was “republished” in February 2014 even as the news website only corrected a misspelling.

The update was made to correct a typographical error in the word “evasion,” which was spelled as “evation” in the original article.

Republic Act No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, was signed into law four months after Santos’ story was published.

FLAG lawyers argued that the court erred in finding that there was republication “in the absence of substantial change,” saying that the prosecution did not provide any evidence supporting its claim.

“There is no reference to the record showing any proof presented by the prosecution that, legally, an ‘update’ to an online post constitutes a ‘criminal’ element of ‘republication’ for purposes of cyberlibel,” they said.

They also pointed out that under RA 10175 and Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, republication was not cited as an element of cyberlibel.

Lawyers argued further that Keng’s complaint, filed in October 2017 or five years after Santos’ story was published online, was not “within reasonable time.”

FLAG did not contest Montesa’s finding that Rapple Inc. had no corporate liability in the case.

 The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the verdict against Ressa and Santos “stemmed from one of several cases that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte instigated to stifle Rappler’s critical reporting on the government, particularly its murderous ‘war on drugs,’ which has killed tens of thousands of people since July 2016. In addition to this case, Ressa and her colleagues face seven other cases in various courts for which she was arrested and detained, and posted bail.”

 

 

 

 

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