Maria Ressa

Maria Ressa cases ‘at forefront’ of EU-PH talks on trade perks, says lawyer

Lian Buan
Maria Ressa cases ‘at forefront’ of EU-PH talks on trade perks, says lawyer
International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney gets meetings with the White House and the State Department as they ramp up international moves for the Nobel Peace Prize winner

The legal issues hounding Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner, had been “at the forefront” of negotiations between the European Union (EU) and the Philippines when both sides were hammering out a trade agreement, according to the journalist’s international lawyers who are ramping up their moves in the global scene.

“Maria’s cases have been at the forefront of negotiations between the EU and the Philippines, we see that in the rule of law subcommittee minutes where Maria’s case was highlighted as a particular concern,” said British barrister Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC in a briefing on Monday, November 22, ahead of the December 10 Nobel ceremony in Oslo.

Gallagher, co-lead of Ressa’s international lawyers, was referring to the 2020 trade cooperation meetings between the EU and the Philippines. European lawmakers last year recommended to revoke the Philippines’ Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status, which provides tariff perks for Filipino goods, over human rights concerns.

Gallagher said this to illustrate the moves they are doing to use international mechanisms for the journalist – who faces a total 6 personal criminal cases, and a closure order against Rappler.

“We would like to see the Philippines doing the right thing without having to resort to those international tools. But those international tools are available and we may have to resort to them if the right thing is not done by Philippine authorities,” said Gallagher.

International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, co-lead of Ressa’s international team, said she was able to have meetings in the White House and in the State Department to discuss Ressa’s cases, along with Covington & Burling, a top law firm based in Washington, DC. Covington partner Peter Lichtenbaum and Ressa are both 1986 graduates of Princeton University.

“This is a case that has caused some concern for the US and is an issue in US-Philippine relations and we know that President Joe Biden has made human rights and democracy a centerpiece in his foreign policy,” said Clooney, adding that “resolving this case not only helps Maria and journalists, but it would also help a very key strategic relationship of the Philippines.”

Clooney, however, has failed so far to secure a meeting with Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. “I was basically told he was too busy to attend the proposed virtual meeting,” said Clooney.

Guevarra later told Rappler that “it was a matter of scheduling.” Clooney and Gallagher said they are available anytime Guevarra is, with Gallagher calling their requested meeting “the most important in the coming weeks.”

Gallagher said these moves are “softer international mechanisms” that’s “quite rightly” the first resort before they file any international case.

As of now, the lawyers and Ressa’s next concern is the December 10 ceremony in Oslo. Ressa needs to get another round of approvals from Philippine courts so she could be allowed to attend the ceremony.

The only two times that a Nobel laureate didn’t get to receive their prizes in person were in 2010 when China barred dissident Liu Xiaobo, and in 1935 when the Nazis barred journalist Carl von Ossietzky.

“The last thing the Philippines wants is to have an empty chair in the platform in the way that we saw in 2010 with China,” said Gallagher.

Ressa’s Philippine lawyer Ted Te, former Supreme Court spokesperson, said he filed the motion to travel before the Court of Appeals – where the cyberlibel conviction is appealed – on November 3.

Ressa is currently in Harvard in Boston after she was authorized to travel for the first time since her cyber libel conviction in 2020. She is set to return and wait from the Philippines the ruling of all the courts handling her seven cases if she can go to Oslo.

“Exile is not an option, I’m Filipino, Rappler will turn 10 in January, and I think while it’s been horrific, there are times when it’s been really bad, there have also been times that are really good. This is a time that matters for all of us, and I think every journalist in this call feels that, especially the Filipinos here,” said Ressa.

“How well we do our jobs now will determine our future, so no [exile],” said Ressa. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.