MY Times colleague Rigoberto “Bobi” Tiglao in his column on Monday said Rappler came out with the article maligning billionaire Wilfredo “Willy” Keng after the businessman turned down an offer for him to invest in the online news organization.

Keng himself confirmed Tiglao’s allegation against Rappler in my telephone interview with him, also on Monday.

Keng, who’s in another country and cannot come home because of the lockdown, identified Benjamin Bitanga — who’s also engaged in investment banking, real estate and mining — as the one who made him the offer.

Keng told me that Bitanga, a Rappler stockholder, had invited him to plunk P100 million in the online news publication after a business deal he had with him did not push through.

The deal that went sour involved the purchase of a piece of land in Leyte where Keng would have built an office for his mining business.

Keng said Bitanga could not show him papers that he owned the land, prompting him to cancel the transaction.

After the canceled deal, Keng went to Bitanga’s office on Chino Roces Avenue in Makati City where the invitation to invest in Rappler was made.

Keng recalled Bitanga saying that his investment in Rappler would make him very powerful because government officials and politicians would fear him.

“Sasakit lang ang ulo ko diyan (That will just give me a headache),” the businessman remembers responding to Bitanga’s offer to invest P100 million in Rappler.

In short, it was Rappler’s failed shakedown of Keng that was the reason for the malicious article.

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Now that the cat is out of the bag, Rappler’s executive editor Maria Ressa’s statement that her conviction by a Manila court for cyberlibel was an attack on press freedom is shot full of holes.

In plain language, it’s b******t!

If there’s no press freedom in the country then Bobi Tiglao, Antonio Contreras and yours truly of the Times; Ana Marie Pamintuan, Federico Pascual and Jarius Bondoc of the Star; and almost all the columnists of the Inquirer are just stooges of the Duterte administration!

Those columnists lambast President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte and many top officials of his government sometimes and, in the case of the Inquirer, most of the time.

Digong to his credit takes all the criticisms of him in stride.

Rappler showed a sense of impunity by coming out with the defamatory article about Keng and, after being found guilty by the court, linked Duterte’s hand to the conviction.

Ressa, a United States citizen, apparently takes delight in the support of foreign media and even some local journalists for her “cause.”

Ressa is a rebel without a cause, to use the title of a popular movie in the 1950s.

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The Yellow publication (yes, pun intended) helped President Benigno Aquino 3rd oust Chief Justice Renato Corona in part by linking the high court magistrate to Keng.

Keng and Corona were friends.

The article portrayed Keng as a “murderer,” “drug smuggler” and “human trafficker.”

Ressa was convicted along with former Rappler writer/researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. for that malicious article.

This columnist can tell you without batting an eyelash that Willy does not fit those descriptions of him by Rappler.

I hate to repeat myself, but I’ve known Willy for more than 30 years and I’m not aware that he’s been charged in any criminal case.

Willy is my two-way compadre. I stood as his son Bryan’s baptismal sponsor while he stood as sponsor at my daughter Monik’s baptism.

In fact, when that Rappler article came out, Willy asked me to accompany him to Isidro Lapeña, then the director general of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), to clear his name.

Willy told Lapeña that he was willing to be arrested on the spot if he had any record with PDEA.

Lapeña’s clearing of Keng formed the basis, among others, for the cyber libel case against Rappler.

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Obviously, Ressa and her staff at Rappler were not aware that news organizations can’t attack a private individual like Keng without risking a libel complaint.

A derogatory article about a private person should be based on hard facts and with public interest in mind.

But government people and public figures — like movie stars — are par for the course even if later on, the articles about them turn out to be inaccurate.

Malicious imputations on the part of journalists and media organizations are hard to prove in court when it comes to criticizing government people and public figures because the citizenry’s welfare is at stake.

The Supreme Court has ruled that government officials and public figures should not be onion-skinned as their consolation is a clear conscience.