DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Media groups and other sectors slam the guilty verdict on Rappler’s CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa and former staff Rey Santos Jr, calling the decision a further attack of the government on press freedom.
Ressa and Reyes are found guilty of cyberlibel by Judge Rainelda Estacio- Montesa of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 on charges filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng. Keng filed the case over Rappler’s investigative story in 2012 linking him to alleged illegal activities and links to the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
While the court ruled that Rappler has no liability, the judge sentenced Ressa and Santos to a minimum of six months to a maximum of six years in jail.
“Weaponization” of the law
The National Union of Journalist of the Philippines (NUJP) said the conviction on the two journalists affirms the “state’s manipulation and the ‘weaponization’ of the law to stifle criticism and dissent”.
NUJP slammed the courts for allowing the retroactive application of the law for a supposed offense committed before it has existed. The Cybercrime Law was passed on 2014.
The court “used the simple expedience of declaring a typographical correction a “republication”, and recalibrating the prescription period for the offense,” NUJP said.
The NUJP also said that this conviction continues the chain of repression against the media community that happened also with non-renewal of the franchise and shutdown of ABS-CBN.
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) also raised alarm over the recent court decision.
“It’s a menacing blow to press freedom in the Philippines and adds a new weapon in a growing legal arsenal against constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties in an Asian outpost of democracy. FOCAP journalists will press on with their courageous, fair, accurate and independent journalism,” their statement reads.
Also expressing solidarity is the International Alliance of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT)-Philippines which called the decision another “travesty of justice, a serious blow to an already threatened press freedom and an attack against the truth-tellers in the country. We will not be cowed.”
The People’s Alternative Media Network blamed the Duterte government for pushing this attack on the press.
“(T)his barrage of legal cases and accusations against Rappler, ABS-CBN, and other independent journalists is clearly a part of the administration’s continuing attack against the media — with a determined aim of instilling fear among media practitioners committed to reporting the truth and holding the administration into account,” they said.
Social media outrage
The outrage was stronger on social media with #IStandWithMariaRessa trending on Twitter.
Renowned journalist and founding member of Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism Sheila Coronel tweets : “#IStandwithMariaRessa. The justice system in the Philippines has been weaponized vs press freedom. Thanks for holding the line @mariaressa @rappler”
Twitter user LAWJDX (@lawdejesus) slammed the decision to silence journalists while Duterte supporter and OWWA undersecretary Mocha Uson remains untouched from libel cases or termination of her post over the disinformation she has spread over her Facebook page.
“Fake news peddlers like Mocha Uson who spread misinformation do so without any consequences, but actual journalists face criminal charges. This government is doing everything in its power to silence the critics. I hate it here. #IStandWithMariaRessa,” his post reads.
“Protect your rights”
Ressa, Reyes and their lawyer Theodore Te faced media in a press briefing after the promulgation, and said they will study the decision and their next move to appeal the case in the higher court.
Ressa said the decision was not unexpected as she has seen the Duterte government and its machinery has targeted her and Rappler over the years.
“I appeal to you, the journalists in this room, the Filipinos who are listening, to protect your rights. We are meant to be a cautionary tale, we are meant to make you afraid. So, I appeal again, don’t be afraid…We will fight,” Ressa said. (davaotoday.com)