MANILA - No one is above the law, a businessman who accused Rappler CEO Maria Ressa of cyber libel said Thursday, asserting his commitment to "see this legal battle to the very end" despite accusations that the case is an act of persecution.
Ressa, whose news site has repeatedly clashed with President Rodrigo Duterte, was arrested Wednesday evening in connection with a 2012 article about businessman Wilfredo Keng. The veteran journalist posted a bail of P100,000 for her temporary freedom, Rappler said.
Rappler's article claimed that Keng's luxury vehicle was used by former Chief Justice Renato Corona during the impeachment proceedings against him.
The report also claimed that Keng had been under surveillance by National Security Council for alleged involvement in human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Keng, in a statement, said he was never investigated by any law enforcement agency, much less indicted, arrested, detained or convicted of any crime in the Philippines.
Ressa, he said, "never attempted to obtain my side on the crimes they wrongly imputed to me or to fact-check their baseless attacks against my name."
Keng said Rappler "through formal and informal channels, repeatedly promised me that they will take down the subject article, but never did."
The report, he added, "destroyed my reputation and endangered my life."
"Such reckless, premature and inaccurate reporting on official government processes reek of actual malice and cyber bullying and border on the intentional propagation of 'fake news,'" said Keng.
"It is thus high time that we remember that the foundation of our independence, democracy and freedom is based on one simple truth: no one is above the law," he added.
The justice department has said the Rappler article was "clearly defamatory." The penalty for cyber libel is imprisonment for a minimum of four years, 2 months and 1 day to a maximum of 8 years.
"While I am aware that this vindication is but the start of what may be a long and arduous process, I am committed to see this legal battle to the very end," said Keng.
BALANCING PRESS FREEDOM, ACCOUNTABILITY
Several international groups and journalists have rallied behind Ressa, with some saying her arrest was a move to silence journalists.
Keng however argued that free speech and press should be "vigilantly balanced against the standards of responsible exercise and accountability, as well as the dictates of conscience, justice and the truth, lest they serve to oppress rather than liberate the citizens whose lives they are meant to enhance."
The businessman also said his complaint was "not just about an ordinary suit filed by a private and hardworking citizen to clear his name."
"It is, in reality, a test case on the how the Philippine legal and judicial system will fare against the dangerous precedent that is being set by one reckless and irresponsible member of the media and of the online community," he said.
"If left unaccountable, Rappler, Ressa and [reporter Reynaldo] Santos’ example of impunity will be emulated and replicated, and will destroy not just individual lives but our entire country."
Rappler is facing a separate tax suit, and its incorporation certificate was revoked in 2018 for allegedly violating the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.