Second libel suit against Maria Ressa withdrawn

1 June 2021

Philippines businessman Wilfredo Keng has withdrawn his second cyber libel case against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, with Makati judge Andres Soriano formally dismissing the case in open court on Tuesday, June 1.

“This case is hereby dismissed with prejudice. Let the cash bail posted by the accused on November 27, 2020, in the amount of P24,000 be released,” said Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 148 Judge Andres Soriano in the written order released before courts closed Tuesday.

According to the order, Keng filed a manifestation on May 25 “praying for the dismissal of the civil aspect of this case and seeking that he and his witnesses be excused from further participating in this case.”

Keng said in the motion that “upon careful reflection, the private complainant has decided to redirect his focus towards helping out with the pandemic, instead of being pre-occupied with the prosecution of this case.”

“He now intends to dedicate time and resources to support ongoing efforts to battle the pandemic and to assist those adversely affected,” Keng said in the motion.

“The motion also urges for the dismissal of the criminal aspect of the case with prejudice,” said the order.

 

No objections

Ressa’s counsel, Ted Te, did not object.

“The public prosecutor manifested that with the private complainant turning hostile to the cause of the prosecution, the prosecution can no longer prove guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt,” said the order.

Te said they were prepared to “face the charge,” but the withdrawal and dismissal “is a welcome development.”

“It was based on the complainant’s voluntary withdrawal. That led the prosecutor to ask for dismissal: without the complainant, the prosecutor cannot prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Te said.

“I’m glad to hear good news. I look forward to seeing the rest of the cases against me and Rappler dropped in the future,” said Ressa.

 

Background of the case

This case was Keng’s second cyber libel complaint against Ressa, over the same 2012 Rappler story which the journalist had already been convicted for by a Manila court in 2020. The conviction, which carried a sentence of a minimum of six months and one day to a maximum of six years, is on appeal. Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr remain free.

Keng filed the second cyber libel complaint over Ressa’s tweets, which were screenshots of an old Philippine Star article about the businessman. That article was referenced in the contested 2012 Rappler article about the late former chief justice Renato Corona.

Philstar.com has already taken down the article from its website, saying it was because “the camp of Mr Wilfredo Keng raised the possibility of legal action.” Philstar.com said it wanted to be “prudent” because “the scope and bounds of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 are still unexplored.”

The legality of suing over screenshots of a story that Ressa did not author, but was merely sharing, is a hotly disputed issue because of the nuances of a young Philippine cybercrime law.

Ressa faces eight other charges before the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA), the Pasig City Regional Trial Court, and the Manila Regional Trial Court.

The four CTA cases and two Pasig cases all stemmed from the mother case involving the company’s Philippine Depositary Receipts, which the Court of Appeals has ruled to have been already cured.

The seventh case in Manila is another cyber libel suit over reporter Rambo Talabong’s investigative story about an alleged corruption scheme at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (CSB). The eighth is the cyber libel case still pending with the Court of Appeals.

Source: Rappler.com

Photo: Jire Carreon/Rappler

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