Dela Rosa: ‘Foul’ on critics’ part to ‘drag’ Duterte admin into guilty verdict vs Maria Ressa
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa on Monday branded as “foul” the pronouncements of critics “dragging” the Duterte administration into the cyber libel case against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr.
“That is purely an independent decision handed down by a judicial court that originated from a complaint filed by a private individual,” Dela Rosa, President Rodrigo Duterte’s former top cop, told INQUIRER.net in a text message.
“So it is so foul on the part of the critics to keep on dragging the Duterte administration into this issue,” he added.
A Manila court earlier handed down a guilty verdict against Ressa and Santos over a cyber libel case involving businessman Wilfredo Keng.
The subject of the cyber libel case was a 2012 article written by Santos claiming that Keng lent his sports utility vehicle to then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The same article also 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.
Keng filed the cyber libel complaint in 2017 or five years after the article was first posted and three years after it was supposedly re-posted due to typographical error.
Following Ressa and Santos’ guilty verdict, opposition senators said the conviction sends a “chilling message” against critics of the Duterte administration.
Rappler, in a statement, also said the Manila court’s decision “sets a dangerous precedent not only for journalists but for everyone online.”
“The decision today marks not the rule of law, but the rule of law twisted to suit the interests of those in power who connive to satisfy their mutually beneficial personal and political agenda,” the media company said.
“Today marks diminished freedom and more threats to democratic rights supposedly guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution, especially in the context of a looming anti-terrorism law,” it added.
But Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that the court’s decision is “based on evidence and the law.”
“Ms. Ressa has all the benefits of appeal to the higher courts,” he said in a message to reporters.
Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson said due process under the country’s judicial system “does not end with a guilty verdict rendered by a regional trial court.”
“Ms Maria Ressa and Mr Santos can always appeal the decision to the appellate court and the Supreme Court if necessary,” he told reporters in a separate message.
“This is a guaranteed right of every Filipino under our existing laws. Other than that, since I am not familiar with the details much less the merits of the case, I think it will not be appropriate for me to either denounce or hail the court’s decision,” he added.
When asked if Ressa and Santos’ conviction would send a chilling effect against administration critics and affect press freedom in the country, Lacson expressed confidence that the Supreme Court will “address and rule on the issue of constitutionality” since freedom of the press is guaranteed under the Constitution.
“On the issue of freedom of the press which is guaranteed under our Constitution, I’m sure the Supreme Court will address and rule on the issue of constitutionality, if not addressed by the Court of Appeals to the satisfaction of both Ms. Ressa and Mr. Santos,” he said.
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