Robredo: Be wary of Ressa verdict's 'chilling' effect on citizens’ freedoms

Vice President Leni Robredo warned the public that the cyber libel conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa has a “chilling” effect on the freedoms enjoyed by ordinary citizens. 

On Monday, June 15, the Philippines’ opposition leader reiterated her Independence Day message that a “threat to the freedom of even a single Filipino is a threat to all of our freedoms.”

"Reports have come in regarding the guilty verdict against Maria Ressa. This is a chilling development… If the law and our government institutions can be brought to bear upon Ms Ressa, then we should be wary of what this means to the freedoms of ordinary citizens,” Robredo said in a statement. 

A Manila court ruled Ressa and her co-accused, former Rappler researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr, are guilty of cyber libel over the latter's May 2012 article on the late former chief justice Renato Corona's links to businessmen. Among those linked in the story was businessman Wilfredo Keng, who filed the cyber libel case. (READ: Rappler statement on cyber libel conviction: Failure of justice, failure of democracy

Ressa and Santos were allowed to post bail, but were each ordered to pay Keng P200,000 in moral damages and another P200,000 in exemplary damages. Rappler as a company, however, was not found liable for cyber libel. 

Robredo, a known advocate for free speech and freedom of the press, said Ressa and Santos’ conviction is just the “latest instance of law being utilized to muzzle our free press” under the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte.

“Silencing, harassing, and weaponizing law against the media sends a clear message to every dissenting voice: Keep quiet or you are next,” the Vice President said. 

She then called on every Filipino to not be afraid. 

“Despite this outcome, it is incumbent upon the press, and every free Filipino, to hold fast to our courage and not be cowed into silence. If anything, this must only firm up our resolve as we work towards a humane, truthful, and law-abiding society,” Robredo said. 

Ressa’s conviction has received widespread condemnation here and abroad.  United Nations special rapporteurs called the guilty verdict a “tragedy for Philippine democracy,” while rights groups warned the conviction sets a “dangerous” precedent for critics of the Duterte government.

Opposition lawmakers called on Filipinos to resist repression, as Ressa’s conviction “will not be the last” if the country remains silent. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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