After Ressa’s conviction, health workers fear cyberlibel for criticizing gov’t on social media
MANILA, Philippines – With the conviction of Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa, members of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) are now asking whether frontliners who criticize government policies on social media could also be sued for cyberlibel.
“AHW is alarmed that the verdict may also be used against health workers who use social media platforms and cybernet in airing their legitimate demands and grievances,” AHW national president Robert Mendoza said in a statement on Tuesday.
“They are also worried about the chilling effects of the verdict on anyone speaking out against the tyrannical rule of the Duterte government. We call on all health workers to take a stand against the growing attacks on our livelihood, rights, liberty and social justice,” he added.
The AHW has been vocal about the government’s shortcomings in treating health workers — such as its lack of personal protective equipment for them and its reluctance to do mass testing.
On Monday, Ressa and a former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. were found guilty by Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa of cyberlibel in a case filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng.
Keng accused Rappler of fabricating lies against him, in a report saying that the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona used a car owned by Keng and that Keng was under surveillance for alleged involvement in human trafficking and in the drug trade.
Keng maintained that he was never investigated, saying that Ressa’s conviction was a vindication for him.
However, press freedom advocates and other opposition personalities slammed the decision, pointing out that Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2020 — the law used in the case — was passed only after the alleged cyberlibel was committed.
But aside from Ressa’s conviction, AHW said its members feared the administration’s penchant for silencing critics — whether it be media giant ABS-CBN, people voicing concern about the pandemic, and activists denouncing the Anti-Terrorism Bill for fear that could be used to prevent legitimate dissent.
“Health workers join the Filipino people in condemning these recent attacks against our rights, freedoms and democracy,” Mendoza said.
“The verdict against Ressa and Santos comes in the wake of ABS-CBN shutdown, the Anti-Terrorism Bill, the rampant red-tagging, mass arrests and extra-judicial killings of activists and ordinary citizens airing their grievances and critical of the Duterte administration,” he added.
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