The Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 found Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former reporter Reynaldo Santos, Jr. guilty of cyber libel on Monday.
Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa released the ruling after less than a year of trial. The promulgation of judgment was initially scheduled for April.
Prosecutors from the government filed a cyber libel case against Ressa, Santos, and news outlet Rappler in January 2019 after they published an article that cited an “intelligence report” linking the private complainant and businessman Wilfredo Keng, to drug smuggling and human trafficking in 2012.
The anti-cybercrime law of the Philippines would not be in effect until months after the article was published. The prosecutors, however, said Rappler allegedly “republished” the news in February 2014, which is why the law has covered it.
According to the lawyers of Rappler, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the “multiple republication” principle does not apply to online media. They also claimed the change made to the article in 2014 was merely a “spelling correction.”
FLAG added Ressa, and Santos has “no participation” in the alleged republishing. They argued that no evidence would prove Rappler, Inc. would be made responsible under the charge.
Aside from cyber liner, Rappler and Ressa also face separate tax evasion and violation of the anti-dummy law charges.
Ressa said the charges as mentioned above are harassment acts against the news site.
Rappler CEO Maria Ressa guilty of cyber libel
“If we lose these battles, then the Philippines will fundamentally change,” Ressa told Al Jazeera before she was convicted of cyber libel.
Ressa said that she is “trying to be mentally prepared so that whatever happens, nothing will be a surprise or a shock.”
According to Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch in the Philippines, the case against Rappler “should never have been filed, to begin with.”
“The absurdity of this particular case against Maria Ressa – prosecutors deemed the story in question ‘republished’ after Rappler corrected one word that was misspelled – suggests the desperation of those behind it to silence her and Rappler,” Conde said in a statement to Al Jazeera.
In 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte sought the closure of Rappler for alleged foreign ownership and tax evasion – allegations the news company denied.