July 12, 2022

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Lawyer Clooney condemns Ressa’s cyber-libel conviction 

HUMAN RIGHTS lawyer Amal A. Clooney denounced the Philippine Court of Appeals (CA) decision upholding a cyber-libel conviction of Rappler, Inc. founder Maria A. Ressa and a former researcher of the news company, and hoped the Supreme Court will overturn the ruling.  

In a statement dated July 11 and sent to reporters on Tuesday, Ms. Clooney said the article published by Rappler was written in good faith and should be protected by free speech in Philippine law.  

“I hope that the Philippines Supreme Court will now set things right and restore the countrys constitutional commitment to freedom of speech,” she said.  

Ms. Ressa, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize last year for her work as a journalist, and former Rappler researcher Rey Santos have yet to elevate the case before the Supreme Court.   

The CA on July 7 affirmed a Manila regional trial court ruling that convicted the two of cyber-libel over a 2012 article, which claimed a businessman was involved in crimes such as human trafficking, murder, and smuggling illegal drugs.  

“While it was admitted that the subject article was based on an intelligence report and a similarly published article, there was no showing that the appellants verified the truthfulness of the collected information on which the subject article was predicated on before it was recklessly republished online,” Associate Justice Roberto P. Quiroz said in the ruling.  

The 41-page decision added eight months and 20 days to the initial six-year sentence handed by the Manila court, as it said the article was malicious and defamatory.  

The court ruled that cyber-libel cases can be filed against online articles up to 15 years after publication, in accordance with the Revised Penal Code and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. 

Ms. Ressa argued that the cybercrime prevention law did not take effect yet when the article was published, as the law was passed four months after the article was published  

The CA disagreed as it pointed out that the law was deemed constitutional by the High Court on Feb. 11, 2014, and Rappler had updated the article to fix a typographical error on Feb.19.  

In another case, the Securities and Exchange Commission upheld last month an earlier decision ordering the closure of Rappler for supposedly violating restrictions on foreign ownership in mass media. 

The online news website has said that it will appeal the decision, citing that the proceedings were “highly irregular”.  

Meanwhile, a Quezon City trial court has set the preliminary hearing on news website Bulatlat’s request to unblock its website and cancel the order of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to block sites allegedly linked to communist and terrorist organizations.  

In the order posted on Bulatlat’s Facebook page, Presiding Judge Dolly Rose Bolante-Prado scheduled the hearing on July 13. 

The alternative news website filed a complaint against the NTC on July 8 and sought a temporary restraining order against the government agencys directive to block the websites of over 20 groups.  

In its petition, Bulatlat said it is not affiliated with terrorists and is only engaged in delivering the news.  

Last month, the country’s telecommunication regulator issued an order to block websites supposedly “affiliated to and are supporting” the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front. 

The order was issued upon the request of former National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon.   

Ronalyn V. Olea, the website’s managing editor, earlier said the government did not issue a notice before it was blocked.  

“This order by the NTC has a chilling effect,” she told the ABS-CBN News Channel last month. “There is this level of anxiety because anyone red-tagged here in the Philippines could face other dangers, including harassment, surveillance and extrajudicial killing.” John Victor D. Ordoñez