CEBU CITY, Philippines – Following the conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr., non-governmental organization Save Our Schools Network (SOS) said the Duterte government was taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to attack the media.
“Thus, this government takes advantage of the anxieties on the pandemic to push its attacks on the media,” SOS said in a statement on Monday, June 15. “It has resorted to ‘weaponizing’ the law to its advantage, as it has done with the non-renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN, another media critical of the government.”
SOS Network is a network of child-focused NGOs, church-based groups, and other stakeholders advocating for children’s right to education with a special focus on the education of lumad (indigenous peoples) children.
The verdict was handed down on Monday morning, June 15, by a Manila court convicting Ressa and Santos of libel over a 2012 investigative report into late Chief Justice Reynato Corona. (READ: Maria Ressa, Rey Santos Jr convicted of cyber libel)
“We believe the conviction on Ressa and Rappler is part of the Duterte administration’s aim to silence the critical media,” SOS said.
They added, “Rappler has been doing its part to expose human rights violations, corruption, the failures in responding to the pandemic, and it has given coverage of the systemic military attacks and demonization on Lumad schools and communities.”
Fisherfolks group PAMALAKAYA said the verdict delivers a “chilling effect” to other media practitioners who are “about to expose an anomaly and corruption from the government, in fear of a cyberlibel case.”
“This is plain and simple (an) attack against freedom of the press and speech. Rappler has been the target of Duterte’s tirade and threat ever since for being critical against the government’s wickedness, most especially to the extra-judicial killings and human rights violations,” the fisherfolk group’s chairperson Fernando Hicap said in a statement.
The group highlighted that the verdict follows the shutdown of broadcasting giant ABS-CBN last May 5, and that the government’s aversion to critical media was clear.
“Duterte will be recorded in history as the press freedom enemy number one. His attacks against the critical and independent press while railroading a repressive anti-terrorism bill are manifestations of a dictatorship. He should be reminded over and over that the last time a tyrant shutdown a media institution, he was ousted in power,” ended Hicap.
‘Muzzle the press’
Akbayan Youth, a self-described democratic socialist and feminist youth movement, said the verdict shows “Duterte is guilty of attacks against freedom of the press.”
“No matter his denial, this is part of President Duterte’s plan to muzzle the free press. The President has made threats against Rappler in his public speeches and barred them from covering his events,” the group said in a statement.
They noted the decision affects all of us because the verdict was based on the retroactive application of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which was passed 4 months after Santos’ article was published.
‘Weaponizing the law’
Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa ruled that the correction of a typo in 2014 was deemed a republishing of the article, therefore the 12-year prescription period of cyber libel was applicable.
“The ‘retroactivity clause’ effectively vested by this verdict on the Cybercrime law can be weaponized against ordinary citizens,” Akbayan said. “Any posts published online before the law was enacted in 2012 can become the basis of a libel case,” they added. “Now, whenever the powerful dislikes a story from a journalist, they can always scour from old stories and file charges, as they did with Rappler.” (READ: After ruling vs Ressa, uploaded old print articles vulnerable to cyber libel)
Ressa and Santos are both out on post-conviction bail pending appeal.
Santos, who is now working in the private sector, said before the promulgation that he still stands by his story.
Rappler and Ressa faces at least 7 other cases so far filed by different government agencies, including a shutdown order that is currently being reviewed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. – Rappler.com
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