On 12 February, a judge issued an arrest warrant for Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, in relation to charges of a criminal act of cyber libel. Ressa’s subsequent arrest has caused many false interpretations of the realities on the ground to be proffered throughout international media. Here are the facts of the situation:
–Cyber libel was made a criminal offence four years before Rodrigo Duterte became President of The Philippines
The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was signed by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III of the Liberal Party of The Philippines on the date of 12 September, 2012.
It therefore beggars belief to imply that the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 had anything to do with Rodrigo Duterte, as at the time of the law’s passage and signing, Duterte was the Vice Mayor of Davao City – a local political office that had nothing to do with the drafting of any law at a national level.
–The continuous publication model renders arguments about the statute of limitations and retroactive justice, immaterial
Although the article which has led to Ressa’s arrest was originally published by Rappler four months prior to Noynoy Aquino signing the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 into law, as of 13 February 2018, the article remains available to read on Rappler’s website. This is relevant because unlike the case with traditional printed material, online publications are subject to the legal test known as the continuous publication model. According to widely held interpretations of this model, so long as a digital article can be publicly accessed, it is as if the publication date is the most recent date on which the article has been available, for the purposes of enforcing defamation laws.
In other words, the one year statute of limitations for cyber libel goes into effect one year after such an article is removed (or in some cases one year after its content is subsequently discovered after said removal), rather than from the date of its original publication. Therefore, as the article in question remains available for the world to read on Rappler’s website, the statute of limitations does not apply. This is because in order for the clock to begin running on such a statute of limitations, the article in question must cease being continuously published (e.g. must cease being publicly accessible online). As the article is still up, its publication remains continuous as of the date of Ressa’s arrest and therefor, the act which has caused harm (and by reasonable deduction continues to cause harm) to the victim (Wilfredo Keng) can reasonably be discovered in perpetuity due to said article’s continuous online publication.
Furthermore, because the article in question was edited in the year 2014 by Rappler’s own admission (e.g. years after the original Philippine cyber-libel law had been passed), there is a further legal argument to be made which quashes any counterargument about a retroactive application of the law. This is the case even though the continuous publication model renders moot both an argument contingent upon retroactive justice and arguments regarding the statute of limitations.
–Many countries punish libel criminally (as opposed to just civilly)
During debates on whether The Philippines should lower the age of criminal responsibility, many falsely claimed that The Philippines was moving to lower the age of criminal responsibility well below that of most other nations. As it turns out, many nations including many so-called first world nations have far lower ages of criminal liability than the Philippines.
Similarly, while libel includes a possible criminal penalty in The Philippines, this is by no means rare in the wider world. The following is a partial list of jurisdictions that allow for the possibility of a criminal prosecution for libel:
–Korea (Republic of)
–United States (in 23 individual states – not at a federal level)
Thus, there is nothing unusual about libel carrying both civil and criminal penalties in The Philippines. The above list makes it clear that such a practice is widespread among a highly diverse group of nations.
Of course, Rappler is not the only anti-Duterte outlet in The Philippines, there are in fact many. Rappler is consequently not being “harassed” for its political perspective, but for violations of specific laws, all of which (including the cyber libel law) date back to a time prior to Duterte’s victory in the 2016 Presidential election.
To say otherwise is to be patently insincere.