The conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa over cyber libel charges is seen as another blow to press freedom in the Philippines, following the shutdown of broadcast giant ABS-CBN last month, and the fast-tracking of the Anti-Terrorism Bill.
But while both local and international outlets condemned what is seen as attacks on the govt’s harshest critics, President Duterte is still a supporter of the free press. At least, that’s what Harry Roque insists.
The Presidential Spokesperson distanced Duterte from the issue, clarifying that it was a private entity, not the administration, that filed the case against Ressa.
‘Naniniwala po siya sa malayang pag-iisip at pananalita at ang paninindigan niya ang taong gobyerno hindi dapat onion-skinned’, said Roque during a press briefing.
‘Suportado po ni Pangulong Duterte ang malayang pananalita at malayang pamamahayag’.
However, Roque failed to expound on the numerous instances that proved to the contrary. Duterte has been notoriously critical of the press, once threatening to shut down ABS-CBN for allegedly maligning him in their reports.
Businessman Wilfredo Keng filed the defamation complaint in 2017, citing a 2012 Rappler article that implied that he had a shady connection with impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona. Keng noted that he and his team had sent evidence and requests to clear his name and have the article revised over the years, without avail.
As for Ressa, the veteran journalist urged the media to remain vigilant despite the apparent persecutions. The libel case is just one of many that Rappler has had to face since Duterte was elected in 2016.
‘I appeal to you, the journalists in this room, the Filipinos who are listening, to protect your rights. We are meant to be a cautionary tale’, said Ressa.
She also warned that the decision affects the Filipino public as a whole, not just Rappler.
‘Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything’.
‘If we can’t do our jobs, then your rights would be lost’.