Duterte supports press freedom, never sued journalists – Palace
MANILA, Philippines — The decision of a Manila court to convict Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and a former researcher-writer of cyber libel should be respected, Malacañang said Monday as it insisted that President Duterte is a “supporter” of press freedom and is not behind any effort to curtail press freedom in the country.
In a televised press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque noted that Duterte never filed a libel complaint against journalists publishing critical news against him.
“Naniniwala po siya sa malayang pag-iisip at pananalita at ang paninindigan nya ang taong gobyerno ay hindi dapat onion-skinned kinakailangan hinaharap ang pula ng taumbayan, lalo na kung ito ay nanggagaling sa ating media,” Roque said.
(He believes in free thinking and speech and his stand is that government officials should not be too sensitive and should face the criticisms of the people, especially from the media.)
Roque also said that Duterte once supported Davao broadcaster Alexander Adonis who faced a libel case.
Adonis, a former anchorman of Bombo radio-Davao jailed for libel, challenged the country’s libel laws before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, arguing that criminal libel violates treaty obligations to promote freedom of expression.
Roque, a former human rights lawyer before joining the Duterte Cabinet, served as Adonis’ legal counsel.
The libel case was filed by then-House Speaker Davao and former first district Congressman Prospero Nograles, who was then-Mayor Duterte’s political rival after Adonis ran a series of commentaries dubbed as the “Burlesque King.”
The UNCHR would then rule that the conviction of Adonis on charges of criminal defamation violated the journalist’s right to free expression.
Rappler has had several run-ins with Duterte for its critical coverage of the war on drugs. It also exposed a pro-Duterte network circulating alleged fake news on social media.
Ressa and Rappler’s former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. were sentenced to jail for six months and one day up to six years and were allowed to post bail.
They were also ordered to indemnify businessman Wilfredo Keng P200,000 in moral damages and P200, 000 in exemplary damages.
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. I
t also cited an intelligence report that claims Keng’s alleged involvement in human trafficking and drug smuggling.
The businessman 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.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 decision “basically kills freedom of speech and of the press.”
Meanwhile, opposition Senators Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros also slammed the court decision, warning the public that Ressa’s conviction “will not be the last” if Filipinos remain silent against the continuous silencing of Duterte administration critics and the attacks on the media.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.