Philippines: Appeals court confirms Maria Ressa’s libel conviction

The Philippine Court of Appeals (CA) has upheld the cyber libel charges against Rappler CEO and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr, adding an additional eight months imprisonment to the sentence. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), condemn the court’s decision and demand all charges against the Rappler journalists be dismissed immediately.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa during an AFP interview at the first Cartooning Award Ceremony during World Press Freedom Day in Geneva on May 3, 2022. Credit: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

On July 8, the CA confirmed the cyber libel conviction of Ressa and Santos originally imposed by the Manila Regional Trial Court. In its decision, the CA said that Ressa and Santos were guilty of violating the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 “beyond reasonable doubt.”

The CA extended the maximum term of imprisonment by eight months and 20 days with fines amounting to 400,000 pesos (approx. USD 7,100) for moral and exemplary damages.

On June 15, 2020, the Manila Regional Trial Court sentenced Ressa and Santos to between 6 months and 1 day to 6 years in prison for charges filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng. Rappler published an investigative report in May 2012 regarding Keng, who allegedly lent his sports utility vehicle to the late former chief justice Renato Corona.

The CA’s decision came just two weeks after Philippines’ authorities ordered Rappler to shut down. On June 28, two days before the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) confirmed its decision to revoke the license of Rappler. The first order was issued in 2018 by the SEC, stating that Rappler breached foreign ownership restrictions.

The NUJP said it stands with Rappler in asserting that cyber libel and libel should be decriminalised. “The Court of Appeals' junking of the appeal on the cyber libel conviction of Ressa and Santos worsens the chilling effect caused by many forms of media repression,” said the NUJP.

The NUJP said: “The CA decision shows that libel and cyber libel are still being used by the powers that be in the Philippines to intimidate, harass and silence journalists. We call on our colleagues to continue our truth-telling during these difficult times, and find strength and hope in our solidarity, and in the people's struggle for genuine democracy.”

The IFJ said: “The use of retroactively applied cyber libel legislation to persecute independent and critical journalism is highly alarming, and the Court of Appeals' decision to uphold these charges affirms the continued disregard for press freedom under the new Philippines’ administration. The IFJ condemns the decision and demands all charges against Maria Ressa and Rey Santos Jr be immediately discontinued.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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