Nonoy Aquino on Ressa's conviction: 'Why not use cyber crime law to take down trolls, purveyors of fake news?'

Photos courtesy of GMA News and Philstar

Former President Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III has spoken over  the cyber libel conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher-writer, Reynaldo Santos, Jr.

According to an article of Rppler, dated June 17, 2020, Journalists are convicted of cyber libel, and yet labor official and well known blogger Mocha Uson, was never made liable under Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, for her disinformation campaigns.

This is what Noynoy Aquino had thought after reading the court decision that made Ressa and  Santos Jr guilty of cyber libel charges last Monday, June 15.

“Si Mocha Uson, nung nag-post tungkol sa mga PPEs, which turned out to be fake news, ang sabi ‘honest mistake.’ Kinuha din nya sa Star yung picture. Hanggang dun na lang? Yung isa, convicted," Aquino told Rappler by phone on Tuesday, June 16.

Aquino was referring to Mocha's social media post about PPEs, which turned out to be fake news, though Uson said it was an honest mistake and it was left at that. 

However, she admitted that she got the photo from Star. And that's it? But Maria was convincted?  according to the article.

"It’s not clear to me how the judge was able to reach the conclusion that there was malice [intended] in the [Rappler] story." Noynoy added.

It was Aquino who signed the controversial cyber crime law in May of 2012, and it was used by businessman Wilfredo Keng in his cyber libel suit against Rappler over a May 2012 article.

Aquino said that, “perhaps the enforcement of the law must focus on the purveyors of fake news who do not attempt to get the other side.”

“It was in this context that this law was signed,” he said. “We believe that this is a law that can be used to go after trolls who make posts without basis."

"Bakit hindi sila ang habulin, sila na may malice at repetitive ang action? Bakit hindi mas unahin yun?" Aquino added.

Aquino would like to review first the court decision before giving a statement on Ressa and Santos’ conviction by Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio Montesa.

However, the former president commented on the ruling, he said: “Parang pilit na pilit (It seemed like a forced decision)."

There are several points that Aquino noticed in the court decision that puzzled him, it was that the law was applied retroactively on the basis of its supposed “re-publication” in 2014, when the article was updated because of a corrected typo error.

“The decision said that the article [being] re-published was the proof of malice. Medyo pilit na yun (It seemed forced),” Aquino said, adding: "Re-publication as a test of malice is too novel."

He also said that it surprised him that Ressa’s involvement in the article was not clearly demonstrated in the case.

In May 2012, Rappler published an article about how the late former chief justice Renato Corona was using SUVs of “controversial businessmen,” one of them being Keng. 

The same article carried Keng's denial, in a phone interview with Santos, that he owned an SUV used by Corona.

Rappler also mentioned an article published by the Philippine Star in 2002 which mentioned  Keng's involvement in "smuggling fake cigarettes and granting special investors residence visas to Chinese nationals for a fee," which Keng had denied in the article.

In his libel case, Keng disputed parts of the article that linked him to involvement in illegal activities, namely human trafficking and drug smuggling, citing an intelligence report.

The cyber crime law penalizes crimes aided by technology and the use of computers such as online pornography, identity theft, forgery, fraud, cyber-squatting, and data interference, among others.

However, the inclusion of cyber libel among the crimes led critics to petition the Supreme Court to declare this provision unconstitutional.

Cyber libel is the same offense as libel defined under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, but committed through a computer system. The High Tribunal, in 2014, ruled that cyber libel was constitutional.

The former President was asked if he had any fears when he signed the law that the cyber libel provision could be misused to suppress press freedom and freedom of expression,

“Anything devised or invented by mankind can be misused or abused.” Aquino answered.

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