Rappler CEO Maria Ressa faces third cyber libel complaint over ‘thesis for sale’ article

Published January 15, 2021, 6:18 PM

by Minka Klaudia Tiangco

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa is facing her third cyber libel complaint after a college professor sued her and Rappler reporter Rambo Talabong over an article alleging that he passed students on their thesis subject in exchange for P20,000.

Rappler’s Executive Editor and CEO Maria Ressa (Jansen Romero / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)
Rappler’s Executive Editor and CEO Maria Ressa (Jansen Romero / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

The contested article, published on January 23, 2020, accused De La Salle University-College of Saint Benilde Professor Ariel Pineda, a program director who teaches in the Export Management Program, of passing students in their thesis subject in exchange for bribe money that is coursed through a middle man. 

In the information for the cyber libel case dated December 7, 2020, Pineda said the Rappler report contained “false, malicious, derogatory and highly libelous imputation as well as offensive insinuations against” his name, character, and reputation.

The complaint was filed before the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 24.

Ressa and Talabong have both posted bail of P30,000 each, according to their counsel Atty. Theodore Te.

Rappler and Talabong said that they stand by their story.

“I spent weeks reporting and weeks more doing everything to ensure that the story is fair,” Talabong said in a statement released on Thursday.

Rappler, Talabong, and Te also called for the decriminalization of libel, calling it a move to intimidate journalists from doing their jobs.

“It is disturbing because it seems like cyber libel is now the first option in case of disagreement on reporting,” Te said. “A private dispute becomes a public offense where the government gets involved; as a result, the implications on freedom of expression and the press are significant.”

“Perhaps Congress should consider whether it is high time to decriminalize libel and cyber libel,” he added.

Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos were convicted for cyber libel over a 2012 article attributing a “shady past” to businessman Wilfredo Keng.

Months after, Keng filed a second cyber libel case against Ressa over her tweets of screenshots of a 2002 Philippine Star article mentioning the same accusations against Keng mentioned in the Rappler article.