On May 29, 2012, Rappler published a report titled “CJ using SUVs of controversial businessman” during the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. The complaint was filed by Wilfredo Keng, who said he did not lend any vehicle to the late chief magistrate. However, the Cybercrime Prevention Act (2012), which the charges come under, was not legislated until later in 2012.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) resolution cites the multiple publication rule to validate the charges. Noting that the timestamp on the offending story shows it was published on February 19, 2014. According to Rappler its internal content management system shows that the modification was to correct a typographical error, the DOJ insists the website made a “republication” and “distinct offense” so that it deserves for prosecution.
These are the latest charges against Rappler which has come under repeated attack from the Philippines Government since President Duterte came into office. On December 3, an arrest warrant was issued for Rappler CEO Maria Resa after she and Rappler were charged with five counts of tax fraud. On February 20, Rappler journalist Pia Randa was barred from the Presidential palace, despite covering the politics beat.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said that this is an extremely dangerous proposition since it essentially means anyone can be made liable for anything and everything they posted even way before the Cybercrime Law so long as it remains on the Web and is accessible.
“These legal acrobatics plus the timing of the complaint’s filing make it hard to shake off the suspicion that the law has deliberately been weaponized against Rappler as part of this administration’s efforts to take it out because of the chief executive’s extreme dislike for the outfit. We hope the courts rise to the occasion and stop this legal anomaly from becoming legal precedent,” NUJP said.
The IFJ said: “The libel charges undermine the Philippines’ press freedom. We stand with our affiliate NUJP and our colleagues in the Philippines. We also support the effort of the NUJP to revise the libel law which will throw out the criminal aspect. We urge all charges to be dropped immediately and for the government to end its targeted attack on Rappler.”