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‘Holding press freedom hostage’: Solons condemn guilty verdict vs Rappler’s Maria Ressa

/ 11:25 AM June 15, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Two lawmakers condemned the guilty verdict against Rappler Executive Editor and CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr., saying that press freedom, once again, “received another devastating blow.”

Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman said that the conviction is “a tragic commentary on the judiciary’s succumbing to the repressive campaign of the Executive.”

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The verdict stemmed from an article written by Santos back in 2012 which claims that businessman Wilfredo Keng lent his sports utility vehicle to then Chief Justice Renato Corona.

The article likewise cited an intelligence report that said Keng had been under surveillance by the National Security Council for alleged involvement in human trafficking and drug smuggling.

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But the article was first published before the Cybercrime Prevention Act took effect on Oct. 3, 2012. The article, however, was re-published and updated in 2014.

“Since cyber libel is libel defined under the Revised Penal Code (RPC) committed through a computer system, the prescription of cyber libel is one year as provided for in Article 90 of the RPC,” Lagman, who is a lawyer by profession, said in a statement.

“The purported cyber libel for which Ressa is charged with was allegedly published or committed in May 2012 but the case was filed in 2017 or only five years later. Verily, it has prescribed,” he added.

Lagman said Ressa “has been the victim of the Duterte administration’s vindictive prosecution for pursuing critical advocacy against what she perceives as flawed policies of the administration.”

“Now the cruel price of free speech and press freedom is impending incarceration,” Lagman said.

“What would be imprisoned with Ressa are critical reportage and legitimate dissent even as it would hold hostage press freedom,” he added.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said that the conviction is “very dangerous to everybody” and that it is a “source of serious and grave concerns, especially in the context of the growing attacks now on the basic rights of our peoples.”

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“This decision is another nail on the press freedom coffin and is very dangerous not just for journalists but for everybody who uses social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter,” Zarate said.

“This verdict can be used to haul into court and jail anyone who exposes wrongdoing in government,” the lawmaker added.

Zarate then related the case to the shutdown of media giant ABS-CBN as well as the recent approval of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

The said bill has been met with controversy, with its critics claiming that the measure is anti-activism and that it poses a threat to freedom of expression.

“Taken into the context of the ABS-CBN shutdown and the railroading of the New Terror Bill, this can be taken as the tightening of our civil liberties particularly that of press freedom and the freedom of expression,” Zarate said.

“This is an ominous sign of where the Duterte administration is going to bring our country. The people must fight back,” he added.

READ: What Went Before: Maria Ressa cyberlibel case

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TAGS: cyber libel, Maria Ressa, Rappler, Reynaldo Santos Jr.
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