Ressa: To say Duterte ‘values’ press freedom ‘is misleading at best, a lie at worst’
MANILA, Philippines — Beleaguered veteran journalist Maria Ressa has branded as “misleading at best” and a “lie at worst” the claim of presidential spokesperson Harry Roque that President Rodrigo Duterte supports press freedom in the country.
This remark of the Rappler chief executive officer comes a day after a Manila court convicted her and Rappler former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel.
“Harry Roque is a smart man. I can sit down and go through President Duterte’s statements. You’ll see them in A Thousand Cuts —the film— his statements that attacked the media, that attacked the press. It’s like a selective memory for Mr. Roque to say that,” Ressa said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.
“I feel like to say that President Duterte values freedom of the press is misleading at best, a lie at worst,” Ressa added.
In a press conference on Monday, Roque noted that Duterte never filed a libel case against journalists and that the President is not behind what media groups denounce as attacks on press freedom.
But for Ressa, actions speak louder than words.
“Malacañang says the Palace had nothing to do with it. The same way that it said Palace had nothing to do with the shutdown of ABS-CBN. Let me put it this way. Words are nothing. Actions speak louder than words, and four years in the pattern of actions is very clear,” she pointed out.
The Rappler CEO then noted how she also suffered attacks on social media under the Duterte administration.
“The exponential attacks on social media that try to label me as a criminal was followed by President Duterte a year later saying those same attacks in his State of the Nation Address. A week after President Duterte attacked us in July 2017, it’s like the floodgates open, it was a signal,” she said.
“Then the first subpoena arrived. Within a few months in January 2018, we received a shutdown order, a revocation of our permit or license to operate,” she recalled.
Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 sentenced Ressa and Santos to six months and one day up to six years in jail, but were allowed to post bail.
They were also ordered to indemnify cyber libel complainant, Filipino-Chinese businessman Wilfredo Keng, P200,000 in moral damages and P200,000 in exemplary damages.
The case filed by Keng in 2017 stemmed from a Rappler article titled “CJ Using SUVs of Controversial Businessman” written by Santos in 2012, which claimed that former Chief Justice Renato Corona was using a Chevrolet Suburban sports utility vehicle found to be registered to Keng.
It also cited an intelligence report prepared in 2002 that allegedly stated the businessman had been under surveillance by the National Security Council for alleged involvement in “human trafficking and drug smuggling.”
“I have never been under attack as much as I have been in the last few years under this administration,” Ressa said about her conviction, noting the “legal acrobatics” that the case had to go through to reach the court.
But despite doubts and with their camp expected to appeal the decision, Ressa said she hopes that the justice system will still side on what is right.
“How do you have faith in our justice system that repeatedly turns the world upside down, that repeatedly seems to have not just selective justice but takes the interpretation that fits what the government wants? I want the justice system to prove me wrong, I want the justice system to give us justice. I want them to prove that they are an independent body,” she said.
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