By Daniel Llanto
International lawyers for Rappler CEO Maria Ressa condemned a tenth arrest warrant arrest from a third cyber libel against her.
Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher, who both lead the international legal team for Ressa, slammed the Philippine government campaign against Ressa and Rappler’s “independent reporting.”
“Here we go again. This now the tenth arrest warrant issued against Ressa, and the third libel prosecution for a public interest story. It is the latest step in the Philippine government’s increasingly transparent campaign to silence her and shut down her news site, just as they shut down the leading broadcaster in the country,” Clooney said, referring to the government-backed shutdown of ABS-CBN.
The new cyber libel complaint involves a story detailing an alleged payment scheme by a college professor in Manila for students to complete the requirement.
De La Salle-College of St. Benilde professor Ariel Pineda filed the charge against reporter Rambo Talabong and Ressa after it was reported on Rappler that he was passing students in their thesis requirements in exchange for PHP20,000.
It was filed before the Manila Regional Trial Court branch 24 on December 7 and is the third cyber libel case Ressa is facing, with an appeal ongoing for a court conviction last year.
The story, Pineda said, had “false, malicious, derogatory and highly libelous imputation” that he is a “corrupt professor or chairperson by passing thesis students for money.”
Ressa and Talabong’s counsel Theodore Te said both had posted bail of PHP30,000 each after learning that a warrant was out and will exhaust legal remedies to dismiss the charge.
On the case, Clooney hoped “that defenders of democracy will stand up for the press and that Philippine judges will put an end to this legal charade.”
Gallagher, citing the United Nations Human Rights Committee, said cyber libel should not be a crime, a crime that often leads to accusations against Rappler and other Filipino journalists.
“This is the latest reprehensible attempt by the authorities in the Philippines to penalize Ressa for her courageous and brave reporting, this time through a nonsensical cyber libel prosecution, threatening her with imprisonment for an article she did not write and did not edit,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher also called on the European Union to call on the Philippine government to drop all charges against Ressa.
“But above all else, the international community must not stand for this campaign of persecution against Ressa and this ongoing assault on freedom of expression and democratic values,” Gallagher said.
“The European Union is a champion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law worldwide, and it has a close relationship with the Philippines. Now is the time for EU to make clear to the government of the Philippines that this reprehensible conduct must end, and all charges against Ressa must be dropped,” he added.
This is the first libel case of Talabong and the 10th criminal case filed by the Philippine government against Ressa.
Three of those cases, including the new one, are related to cyber libel. Ressa is appealing her first libel conviction at the Court of Appeals over a story involving businessman Wilfredo Keng and faces a second cyber libel charge at the Makati RTC for tweeting about the same story.
Ressa and Rappler face five tax cases, for which trial will resume on February 3. This is in addition to consolidated anti-dummy and violation of securities code charges.
The US Congress earlier identified Ressa as among the journalists needing protection under a law imposing sanctions on foreign government officials involved in the intimidation of independent journalists.
The European Parliament had also called for the dropping of all “politically motivated charges” against Ressa and her colleagues.