MANILA - The Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicted news website Rappler, its chief Maria Ressa, and a former Rappler reporter for cyber libel, saying an article it published in 2012 was "clearly defamatory."
The complaint was filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng, which stemmed from an article published by Rappler titled “CJ using SUVs of controversial businessman” during the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Keng had said he did not lend any vehicle to the late chief magistrate, who was ousted in 2012 over undeclared wealth.
In a resolution dated Feb. 4, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Edwin Dayog said Rappler, Ressa and reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. committed libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
“The publication complained of imputes to complainant Keng the commission of crimes. It is clearly defamatory," the resolution read.
"Under Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code, every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown. The presumed malice is known as malice in law. The recognized exceptions, where malice in law is not present, are the absolutely or qualifiedly privileged communications," it said.
“The publication in question does not fall under any of the absolutely or qualifiedly privileged communications. It is not qualifiedly privileged as a ‘private communication made in the performance of any legal, moral or social duty'," it continued.
The DOJ, meanwhile, cleared Rappler directors and officers Manuel Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Glenda Gloria, James Bitanga, Felicia Atienza, Dan Alber de Padua, and Jose Maria Hofileña, who were impleaded in the same complaint.
The National Bureau of Investigation, however, found no basis for Keng's complaint against the seven.
Aside from cyber libel, Rappler and Ressa are facing tax evasion charges.
A year ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler's incorporation papers, citing its alleged violation of the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.
Malacañang then banned its reporter from covering Palace events.
Rappler, which has published stories critical of the administration, has scored cases and acts against it as an attack on press freedom.