NBI summons Rappler's Ressa, 2 others over cybercrime raps

By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan

January 19, 2018, 4:04 pm

MANILA -- The National Bureau of Investigation has summoned the chief executive officer of online news website Rappler Maria Ressa and two others to respond on the complaint filed by a businessman regarding an article it published five years ago.

Ressa and former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. and businessman Benjamin Bitanga were subjects in the subpoenas signed by NBI deputy director for investigation services Atty. Vicente de Guzman, and are poised to appear at the NBI on January 22.

Bitanga is the owner of Dolphin Fire, a company that has shares in Rappler Holdings, Inc.

The three persons were invited to shed light on the complaint filed by Wilfredo Keng for a violation of the Cybercrime Law because of the article "CJ using SUVs of 'controversial' businessmen" that Santos wrote and that Rappler published on May 29, 2012.

Rappler reported that the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was then facing an impeachment trial, had been using a black SUV whose plate number was allegedly issued to Keng.

The news website also reported Keng’s alleged involvement in human trafficking and smuggling.

The NBI is also conducting a probe into the possible criminal liabilities of Rappler's executives for supposedly violating the constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of mass media.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) earlier ruled to revoke the operating license of the digital media company, questioning its corporate deal with one of its foreign investors, Omidyar Network.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II issued a Department Order (DO) No. 17, directing NBI Director Dante Gierran to conduct an investigation and case build-up over the possible violation of the Constitution and other laws by the media outfit.

He added that the investigation is within the mandate of the department which includes "investigating crimes, prosecuting offenders and overseeing the correctional system."

"When the Constitution or any law has been violated by Rappler, necessarily the DOJ will be involved in its investigation, otherwise the DOJ will be remiss in its duties. We acted after receiving an official communication from the SEC which included a copy of their decision on the Rappler case," he added.

Aguirre said the DOJ launched the probe after receiving an official communication from the SEC which included a copy of their decision revoking the incorporation papers of Rappler.

“Rappler should welcome this investigation so that it will have the chance to prove the innocence it claims to have. We call on Rappler to actively participate in the investigation of the NBI,” he said.

“Your DOJ is only after the truth, we owe the Filipino people that much. Rappler’s active participation in the NBI’s investigation will greatly help in bringing out the truth,” Aguirre added.

Aguirre said the Constitution is absolute in saying that ownership and management of mass media in the country is exclusive to Filipino citizens.

“You should not circumvent what is stated in the Constitution. In other words, you should not do even indirectly what is prohibited in the Constitution,” Aguirre said.

The body conducted its investigation upon the request of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) in December 2016.

Solicitor General Jose Calida said he asked the SEC to probe Rappler after reading the newspaper articles of former ambassador to Cyprus and Greece Rigoberto Tiglao, who disclosed in October 2016 that two American companies, Omidyar Network, Inc. and North Base Media, in 2015 “made substantial investments” in Rappler. (PNA)