The problem with the case of Maria Ressa, where a convicted libelist was eventually caught on the sharper edge of Lady Justice’s sword, was not that truth and justice were belatedly served, but that the opposition who had self-appointed themselves judge and jury had long decided their own outcomes outside the courtroom. Their biases festered way before Rodrigo Duterte even contemplated a life beyond Davao City.
Lady Justice is a personification of the moral force of a judicial system that trumps technicalities. The scales she carries mean evidence must stand on its own. Her sword, a virtual scythe.
Now imagine libel as hate-farming where poisonous weeds regrow. It was that which Ressa had relied upon under the administration of Benigno Aquino III.
Strangely inside the courtroom, there was a ghostly presence of people who did not belong there. From the late Chief Justice Renato Corona to Duterte. Note where nearly all media include them if only to paint a political collage on the courtroom’s walls. Bias entered long before charges were even filed.
To appreciate, recall Aquino’s war waged against the Supreme Court (SC) spawned by judicial decisions on his family’s Hacienda Luisita. Conflicts included decisions on his illegal pork barrel ploys, to starving the SC budget in retaliation, to a demolition job against the SC written by a beneficiary of huge funding from an Aquino relative whose fortunes were drawn from the clan behind Hacienda Luisita.
This is important. Ressa’s libelous gossip required cultivated sources inside the SC.
To defame Corona, the story also defamed a private citizen, the latter, mere collateral damage. Inflicted in 2012, the libel was published online conveniently beyond the reach of old libel laws.
Cowed by the immense powers and connections of the Fourth Estate, to clear his name, private back-channels were resorted to by the private citizen. Unfortunately, in 2014, rather than print a one-sentence erratum, the libelous piece was republished in its entirety on the flimsy pretext of one misspelled word.
Still trusting his pleas would bear fruit, the victimized citizen continued to work the back-channels. He was eventually promised his side would be aired when a Rappler reporter informed him that she had written on and had submitted his side for publication.
It never was. Realizing his family’s lives were being ruined by lies, he finally filed charges.
Rather than debunk the evidence of libel, Ressa’s defense focused on the applicability of either the old laws or the 2013 cyber libel statutes. Since the evidence proved the prosecution’s case, they had no choice but to invoke prescriptive periods to keep Ressa off the witness stand. Once a hostile witness, they could not risk having Ressa cross-examined.
To their dismay, applicable prescriptive periods are definitive. Libel is adjudicated on a per publication basis. The Cybercrime Law carries a 12-year prescriptive period to limit the liability of felons from continuing charges should their libelous lies remain online.
Trapped and flailing, Ressa has taken her case to gullible and ignorant foreigners where she has deconstructed the value of credible pollsters and packages her criminal status as an attempt by Duterte to stifle press freedom. Never mind that in both the 2012 and 2014 libelous publications, Duterte was not even in the room.