The Court of Appeals last week denied the motion for reconsideration filed by Maria Ressa, the Executive Director of the news outlet Rappler, in connection with the court’s affirmation of the conviction on 15 June 2020, of the celebrated journalist and Nobel Prize winner and Reynaldo Santos, of the crime of cyber libel, handed down by the Regional Trial Court, Branch 46, Presiding Judge Rainalda H. Estacio Montesa.

Both Ressa and Santos were sentenced to six months to six years imprisonment, but the appellate court added eight months and 20 days to the maximum penalty.

To recall, a news article was written by Rappler news writer Reynaldo Santos on the impeachment of the former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. The article contained accusations that the late jurist accepted favors from Chinese businessman William Keng. It also mentioned that Keng lent a sports utility vehicle to Corona and cited sources that the businessman was involved in illegal drugs, human trafficking, and murder.

In a statement posted on her Instagram account, Ressa expressed disappointment and dismay:

“I am disappointed by today’s ruling but sadly not surprised.“

“This is a reminder of the importance of independent journalism holding power to account.“

This columnist is tempted to riposte her pretended innocence and attempt at philosophical justification of her wrongdoing. Her conviction is a reminder of the inevitability and certainty of the law holding abusive journalists accountable.

Ressa tries to feign nonchalance and blasé on her legal setback stating:

“Despite these sustained attacks from all sides, we continue to focus on what we do best — journalism.“

If journalism is what she does best, I’m afraid she will be facing more cyber libel charges before the present one is ended.

Her lawyer said she would elevate the adverse ruling to the Supreme Court.

The appellate court, in denying the motion for reconsideration, ruled:

“A careful and meticulous review of the motion for consideration reveals the matters raised by the accused-appellants have already been exhaustively resolved and discussed in the assailed decision.”
In her appeal, Ressa raised the defense that the subject article is qualifiedly privileged since Keng was a public figure.

The appellate court is correct in rejecting Ressa’s defense and ruling that the Rappler article cannot be deemed as qualifiedly privileged because “it was not proven to be a fair and true report made in good faith or a fair commentary on matters of public interest.”

Ressa’s lawyers failed to present her and Santos in court to testify about their good faith in publishing the offending article.

The lawyers’ failure to present their clients as witnesses, not only to prove good faith in the publication of the article, but to rebut as well Keng’s testimony that he demanded rectification from the accused, that they ignored his demand, and that a Rappler reporter had written a clarificatory write-up but the accused did not publish it, was fatal. Such a huge omission made the testimony of Keng unrebutted and convincingly proved malice, more so that the libelous article was not withdrawn and continued to be posted online even after Ressa’s and Santos’ conviction by the lower court.

The two accused also raised the defense of prescription arguing that the crime, assuming it was committed, had already prescribed as it was filed after the prescriptive period of one year as provided under the Revised Penal Code, but the Court of Appeals ruled that the cyber libel crime they committed was a continuing one and it prescribes in 15 years as provided under the law.

Ressa may have deceived, and gotten the support of the international media, which have glorified her as a freedom fighter and defender of human rights, earning her the prestigious Nobel Prize, but not in this part of the world, which has seen through her camouflage.

Unyielding to the inexorable adverse repercussion to her stature as a journalist, and unmindful of probable incarceration, should there be a final conviction, she presents herself as a victim of political persecution. She unerringly and consistently projects herself to be an unbowed recipient of injustice. She claims, with a masterful show of dramatic flair, that her present vulnerable situation arose as a consequence of her forceful and biting criticism against perceived violations of human rights by former President Rodrigo R. Duterte during his term, in what she described as the latter’s “murderous war against illegal drugs resulting allegedly in thousands of extrajudicial killings.”

She justifies her abuse of the freedom of speech as being within the mantle of the constitutionally guaranteed right.

She invokes freedom of the press when she goes rampaging against individuals deemed wrongdoers. It appears, however, that such is but a convenient excuse and license to libel and destroy the reputations of individuals and institutions.

But the veneer of journalistic excellence and the mask of courage cannot be sustained for long. The truth will always catch up on the masquerader, no matter how one covers oneself with layers of falsies.

Not even her being a Nobel Prize laureate could protect her when the guillotine of justice comes crashing down.

For unrepentantly engaging in baseless and false accusations against the Duterte administration, as well as using her pen and allowing her Rappler to run roughshod against the rights of an innocent man, she is finally reaping her comeuppance.

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