Cyber ​​libel against Rappler journalists, CDO whistleblowers thrown out

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Rappler’s lawyer says Quiboloy paralegal’s recent admission to US is ‘very significant development’

MANILA – Cagayan de Oro prosecutors have dismissed 7 cyberdefamation complaints against Rappler journalists, a professor and 3 former members of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ Church (KOJC) over a series of articles accusing the group’s founder cleric, Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, of sexual abuse, trafficking and fraud, among others.

In a 3-page joint resolution dated February 18, prosecutors Ruby Teleron-Malanog, Alfonso Vicente, Jr., and Omar Sharief Naga dismissed the cyberdefamation complaint filed by Cherry Cabrillos, who identified herself as the Northern cluster coordinator Mindanao by KOJC.

“She has not been identified in the articles and recordings. Absent circumstances specifically pointing to or alluding to a particular member of a group, no member of that group is entitled to act,” prosecutors said.

They also noted that Quiboloy himself was not involved in filing the lawsuit.

“Although she was identified in the articles and the recordings, he did not sign any affidavit. There is no evidence that, as to Apollo Quiboloy, Cherry Cabrillos is competent to establish the presence of the fifth element, ”explained the prosecutors , referring to the tendency to dishonour, discredit or despise the person allegedly defamed, an element of defamation.

Rappler Incorporated and its reporters Herbie Gomez, Inday Espina-Varona, Vernise Tantuco and Pia Ranada were named as respondents to the lawsuit.

Ateneo teacher Jayeel Cornelio and Quiboloy whistleblowers Arlene Stone, Faith Killion and Reynita Fernandez have also been implicated.

In a series of video reports and interviews posted on Rappler’s website and social media platforms in December last year, Stone, Killion and Fernandez detailed allegations that Quiboloy slept with “pastorals ” or personal assistants, including minors.

They also shared church-imposed fundraising quotas with serious consequences such as whipping and caning for failing to meet quotas or behavior codes.

The US Department of Justice announced in November last year the filing of sex trafficking charges against Quiboloy, by the way, the President’s spiritual adviser Rodrigo Duterte.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation placed him on its “most wanted” list in February this year for sex trafficking and smuggling bulk money, among other charges.

Quiboloy allegedly used force, fraud and coercion to commit these crimes.

Quiboloy’s Hawaii-based attorney, Michael Jay Green, dismissed the allegations as allegations of allegedly disgruntled former members who have been accused of corruption and embezzlement of KOJC funds.

Prosecutors did the ‘right thing,’ says Rappler’s attorney

Rappler’s lawyer, former Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te, told ANC Rundown on Tuesday that his clients had not even received copies of the complaints filed in Cagayan de Oro City, but the praised for doing the “right thing”.

“The panel, the prosecutors, generally have the discretion to determine for themselves, even without a counter affidavit, whether there is a basis to dismiss a complaint and here is what the prosecutors did. They cited Rule 112, Section 3(b) of the Rules of Criminal Procedure and this precisely gives the basis for prosecutors to determine for themselves, even without a counter affidavit submitted, whether there was a basis to conclude that ‘there was no case,’ he said. .

Under the rule, prosecutors have 10 days after the complaint is filed to either dismiss the complaint if they find no grounds for further investigation, or issue a subpoena to respondents, attaching a copy of the complaint and its supporting affidavits.

Te also pointed out that it was Quiboloy, not his supporters, who should have filed the lawsuit.

“The essence of offense is really personal. It must indicate that someone’s honor or reputation is being defamed. It therefore cannot be claimed by proxy by anyone else,” he said.

Various complaints have been filed by Quiboloy supporters against Rappler, his journalists and whistleblowers in various cities in Mindanao where KOJC is based – particularly in Davao City, Panabo City and General Santos City.

“They’re based on virtually the same set of reports. A small group of respondents are identical, with the addition in different cases of other Rappler journalists or related to Rappler articles, but essentially yes, that would be the same set of reports,” he said.

Te explained the difficulty under current defamation laws as to where lawsuits can be brought.

“Our defamation laws would seem to indicate that a complaint can be made by the person offended by an article in the place of first publication. And that’s always been problematic in libel law because literally you can say I was in a different city and say I saw it for the first time there. And it was first published there,” he said.

“And you know, in a hypothetical situation, a plaintiff could actually take someone out of that person’s location, residence, hometown and have that person litigate a case in a totally separate city where this person has no connection with this city. And that’s one of our challenges in our current defamation laws,” he added.

A recent Supreme Court decision in Tieng v Alaras in July last year established the rule as to where claims of defamation against a radio or television broadcast can be filed – where the radio or television station where the broadcast of the defamatory statement is the origin or actual residence of the injured private party at the time the radio or television broadcast was made.

However, Te pointed out, this rule does not extend to cyberdefamation.

The defense that Rappler’s articles were fair and truthful reports of legal proceedings, a defense in libel cases, is not discussed in the Cagayan de Oro complaints but raised in the other raps.

“This particular point was raised in defense of the journalists, that this would be a report on something that has happened before and is happening now and that this is just a report, a fair and true report,” Te said.

PARALEGAL ADMISSION TO USA

Te added that the recent admission by an American paralegal that she was involved for approximately 8 years in facilitating marriage and visa fraud with KOJC executives is a significant development.

Maria de Leon agreed to plead guilty and agreed to cooperate with the US government.

“It’s an interesting development. Personally, I would like to see where this leads. But it’s actually a very important development, although it doesn’t directly affect the legal proceedings, the ongoing lawsuits,” he said.

Under article 361 of the revised Penal Code, the veracity of an allegation can be presented as evidence in court and, if published with “good reasons and for justifiable purposes”, can lead to an acquittal.

“As a matter of defense, it must be argued,” Te said. “That’s why I can’t, I don’t want to say more because there are pending cases but yes, it can be brought to the attention of the prosecutors… We will have to see where the prosecutors will go who deal with pending cases in relation to this particular development,” he added.

Te, who has also defended Rappler CEO Maria Ressa against cyberdefamation, said Ressa’s appeal regarding her June 2020 conviction has been submitted for resolution.

A Manila court sentenced Ressa and former researcher-writer Rappler Reynaldo Santos, Jr. to up to 6 years in prison for a 2012 article against businessman Wilfredo Keng.

The decision was criticized for extending the time limit for filing a claim for defamation from 1 year under the revised Penal Code to 12 years for cyber defamation.

There was also an issue as to whether a correction of a typographical error in 2014 could be considered a repost to bring the matter under the Cybercrime Prevention Act, which was enacted in 2012. , months after the original publication of the Rappler story.

Cagayan de Oro, cyberlibel, rappler, Kingdom of Jesus Christ, Apollo Quiboloy, Cherry Cabrillos

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