Lawyers ask CA to grant Ressa’s Norway travel request
MANILA, Philippines — With a little over two weeks before Rappler CEO Maria Ressa is set to receive the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, her lawyers on Monday expressed hope that the Court of Appeals (CA) will follow its earlier decision and allow her to travel to Oslo to represent the country as its first ever Nobel laureate.
In a press conference, her local lawyers Ted Te and Francis Lim, as well as her international counsels Amal Clooney and Caoilfhionn Gallagher, reminded the government that “all eyes are on the Philippines” as it has yet to decide whether to let her travel to Oslo on Dec. 10 to collect the world’s highest civilian award for her work as an investigative journalist.
Ressa, along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, were awarded the Nobel this year for their “courageous fight for freedom of expression” in their home countries.
But while the Philippine government congratulated her, Ressa, who has been convicted of cyberlibel in 2020, is still facing several tax evasion cases that she believes are attempts to silence her and her news site, Rappler.
She has filed with the CA a motion to travel to Norway, which the Office of the Solicitor General has sought to thumb down.
Te said he hoped the CA would follow the spirit of its Oct. 18, 2021 order that allowed Ressa to travel to Boston recently to give a series of lectures at Harvard University.
He added that while the courts are not necessarily bound by Ressa’s historic win, “they know the significance of the prize and that could influence the way the court would have acted.”
Clooney, meanwhile, sought to take one step further and called on the Philippine government to pardon Ressa over her conviction and to drop the remaining seven cases against her and her team.
During the same press conference, Lim said the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has stood by its earlier 2018 closure order against Rappler and said that its donation of its Philippine depositary receipts (PDRs) to the Rappler Filipino shareholders “has no effect.”
Lim, who handles the SEC case now elevated before the CA, said Rappler had already filed a motion for reconsideration against the SEC ruling.
“We felt, pursuant to many decisions of the Supreme Court, that the subsequent transfer of the disputed shares to qualified Filipinos, qualified transferees, in this case, Filipinos, would cure whatever the defects are,” Lim said. “We made a very strong case there, and unfortunately the SEC panel did not ask for our view before submitting its report to the Court of Appeals.”
The SEC case is the mother case of the other seven charges against the Rappler team, which alleges that the news site violated the Constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law for issuing PDRs to a foreign company called Omidyar Network.
“This government has a few months left to go and an important choice to make: Should it double down on the persecution of this lone journalist as the whole world is watching or seize this opportunity to show that it [does not punish] fair criticism?” Clooney said. “I hope for the sake of all journalists and all Filipinos that it is the latter.”
Echoed Gallagher: “What we want to avoid in [Ressa’s] case is for it to take a very long time before there is justice. There is a key moment now in the leadup to Dec. 10: it is entirely within the control of authorities whether to continue to pursue these baseless criminal charges or whether to cease.”
“For all seven cases the ball is now entirely in the Philippine government’s court and we will be watching their next steps closely,” she added.
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