NBI files cyber libel raps vs. Rappler

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MANILA, Philippines  — The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed a cyber libel complaint before the Department of Justice (DOJ) against online news website Rappler’s chief executive officer Maria Ressa and eight others in connection with the complaint filed by a businessman regarding an article it has published in 2012.

In a transmittal letter signed by NBI Director Dante Gierran addressed to Officer-in-Charge Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan dated March 2 but was released to media on Thursday, the NBI recommended for prosecution Ressa, former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos, Jr., who wrote the article in question, and directors and officers Manuel Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Glenda Gloria, James Bitanga, Felicia Atienza, Dan Alber De Padua, and Jose Maria G. Hofilena.

The complaint filed by Wilfredo Keng for a violation of the Cybercrime Law because of the article “CJ using SUVs of ‘controversial’ businessmen” that Santos wrote and that Rappler published on May 29, 2012.

Rappler reported that the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was then facing an impeachment trial, had been using a black SUV whose plate number was allegedly issued to Keng.

The news website also reported about Keng’s alleged involvement in human trafficking and smuggling.

The NBI said Keng submitted a supplemental affidavit on February 28 this year, in which he alleged, citing jurisprudence, “that the prescriptive period for crimes falling under Section 4(c)(4) (of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012) is 15 years.”

According to the NBI, Keng said the article where his complaint stemmed from is still published online.

“Unlike published materials on print, defamatory statements online, such as those contained in the libelous article written and published by the subjects, is indubitably considered as a continuing crime until and unless the libelous article is removed or taken down,” the transmittal said.

“That the subjects did not remove the article in question from their website “may be construed as a tacit approval of the contents of the article, or even more, a direct validation or consent to the publication thereof,” the NBI said.

The NBI is also conducting a probe into the possible criminal liabilities of the executives of online news website Rappler for supposedly violating the constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of mass media.

Rappler Holdings Corporation is also facing tax evasion raps filed by Bureau of Internal Revenue before the DOJ for failing to pay PHP133 million in taxes.

Last January, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked the certificate of incorporation of Rappler Inc. and RHC allegedly for violating the Constitution and foreign equity restrictions in mass media.

The SEC stated that Rappler violated the Foreign Equity Restrictions in Mass Media enshrined in the 1987 Constitution and enforceable through the Mass Media Law, Anti-Dummy Law, and the Foreign Investment Act.

Under Article XVI, Section 11 (1) of the Constitution, “The ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly-owned and managed by such citizens.”

Rappler filed a petition before the Court of Appeals (CA) seeking to stop the implementation of the decision made by SEC.

In its petition, Rappler asked the appellate court to reverse and set aside the SEC en banc decision dated Jan. 11, claiming that the SEC issued the assailed order hastily that it violated their constitutional right to due process.

It argued that the ruling was done in the absence of formal charge, which was supposed to be required in the commission’s rules.

“There was also no formal administrative action filed against Rappler and RHC before the SEC. Without an administrative action, surely, no administrative action, including the suspension or revocation of the corporation’s franchise, could have been imposed by the SEC,” read the petition. –Christopher Lloyd Caliwan/PNA

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