Pahayag ng CEGP sa hatol na guilty kina Maria Ressa at Rey Santos Jr.

Nagbigay-pahayag si Anton Narciso, miyembro ng national secretariat ng College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), kaugnay sa hatol na guilty ng Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 kina Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa at dating researcher/writer na si Rey Santos Jr.

Nahatulang nagkasala sina Ressa at Santos sa kasong cyberlibel na isinampa ng negosyante na si Wilfredo Keng. Marami ang nagulat na nagpatuloy ang paglilitis ng kaso samantalang ang artikulo ng Rappler ay nailimbag sa website nito apat na buwan bago naisabatas ang cyberliber law.

Ressa, Santos’ cyberlibel conviction part of Duterte’s political vendetta, critics say

The guilty verdict on Rappler’s chief executive officer Maria Ressa and former staff Rey Santos Jr. earned swift condemnation from rights groups, calling the decision by the Manila Regional Trial Court (MRTC) part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s political vendetta against critical media outfits.

In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said June 15, 2020 shall be remembered as a dark day, not only for independent Philippine media but for all Filipinos.

Ressa and Santos were found guilty of cyberlibel by MRTC Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa and were sentenced to a minimum of six months and one day to a maximum of six years in jail. The verdict has cleared Rappler of liabilities.

Businessman Wilfredo Keng filed the cyberlibel case against Ressa, Santos, and Rappler over a May 2012 article on his alleged links to the late former chief justice Renato Corona.

Maria Ressa (with microphone) holds a press briefing after conviction of cyberlibel today in Manila. (Photo by Raymund B. Villanueva)

Swift condemnation

The NUJP said the verdict has implications far beyond the case filed against Ressa and Santos as it affirmed the State’s manipulation and “weaponization” of the law to stifle criticism and dissent.

The NUJP disagreed with the decision, saying it allowed the retroactive application of the law for a supposed offense committed before it existed by the simple expedience of declaring a typographical correction a “republication”.

The group also said the court recalibrated the prescription period for the offense.

“In effect, the trial was a test run for the latest weapon the State can now wield to intimidate and silence not only the media but all citizens who call out government abuse,” the NUJP said.

Arts and media alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) said the decision successfully turned the Cybercrime Law into a potent tool for political vendetta against journalists and citizens whose only “crime” is to be perceived as critical of government.

“If left unchallenged, the verdict would make oppression of press freedom and free expression the law of the land, and shatter the Bill of Rights guaranteed by the Constitution. It would render journalists and citizens defenseless against government and officials who will use anything and everything to evade accountability and to silence those who dare ask questions,” LODI said.

The group also said the case was really about President Duterte it accused of not being able to stand independent-minded journalists and journalism.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) said the decision was a “menacing blow to press freedom” and adds a new weapon in a growing legal arsenal against constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties in the Philippines.

FOCAP said it is extremely alarmed over the decision.

“Convicting Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr. for an ‘updated article,’ that was already beyond the prescriptive period for libel smacks of a targeted attack on media that has been publishing not only glossy stories on the administration,” the Photojournalists Center of the Philippines said in its own statement.

The People’s Alternative Media Network also blamed the Duterte government, saying that “[t]aken as a whole, this barrage of legal cases and accusations against Rappler, ABS-CBN, and other independent journalists is clearly a part of the administration’s continuing attack against the media — with a determined aim of instilling fear among media practitioners committed to reporting the truth and holding the administration into account.”

Human rights group Karapatan said Ressa and Santos’ conviction sends the dangerous message that journalists who expose misdeeds of those in power are more vulnerable to retaliation to silence them.

“It also sends an even more dangerous message to the public that anyone and everyone can be criminalized on their views and opinions,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“With the conviction of Ressa and Santos, the shutdown of ABS-CBN, the killings and threats against journalists, the numerous violations faced by Filipinos on a daily basis and the passage of the terror bill, a full-blown dictatorship is made more palpable,” Palabay added.

Families of political prisoners said it is alarmed with the conviction, saying it clearly sets a dangerous precedent that those who expose the government’s misdeeds will be persecuted.

“As how political prisoners were arrested for standing up against oppression, the verdict dramatizes how laws are being twisted to silence dissenters and truth-tellers,” Fides Lim, KAPATID spokesperson, said.

National Union of People’s Lawyers president Edre Olalia for his part said the verdict is a “most disappointing and bad news.”

“Once again, a number of our courts have missed the noble opportunity to hand out verdicts saying they will not be a party to the insanity and legal bullying,” Olalia said.

“The message is clear, the arrogant powers can squander time, resources and power on getting back at those asserting their rights and calling them out,” he added.

(Photo by Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘We will fight’

In a press briefing after the promulgation, lawyer Theodore Te said they still have to study the entire decision and decide on how to contest the verdict.

Ressa for her part said the guilty verdict was not unexpected given the context of everything that has happened to Rappler in the four years of the Duterte administration.

“I still face seven criminal charges. It is not unexpected and, at the same time, I feel like we will keep fighting,” Ressa told reporters in a briefing after the promulgation.

“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, we are meant to make you afraid. So, I appeal again, don’t be afraid…We will fight,” Ressa said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

On Panelo’s ‘honor’

Presidential legal counsel and spokesperson Salvador Panelo again proved that both libel and cyberlibel should be decriminalized when he threatened both Rappler and the with legal charges for simply reporting on an important and raging public issue. Panelo is showing the Filipino people that this country’s criminal libel and cyberlibel laws are, more often than not, used as weapons wielded by the powerful to exact revenge and to punish than a legal remedy for justice.

In a press briefing in Malacañan Palace Tuesday, Panelo said his office is drafting the libel complaints, against both media outfits for being “irresponsible” and “malicious.” To his mind, reports about his February 26, 2019 letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole forwarding Antonio Sanchez’s family’s request for executive clemency were meant to discredit him in public and to tarnish his honor.

“Balat-sibuyas” is what we Filipinos call officials who are incapable of thinking beyond their imagined hurt and fail to see that the reports are not all about them. Officials of Panelo’s kind must at least admit that, in this case, those reports helped avert the travesty of the convicted rapist and murderer’s early release. Those reports informed the public that flawed laws are being abused by powerful people and that such laws beggars revisiting. Those reports also serve to warn officials like Panelo to be careful in dispensing both duties and favors, even to old friends.

If protecting his honor is what Panelo is really after, he should refrain from carrying out his threat against Rappler and Magnanimity is key. Honor is, after all, like a nice shirt seen by others on the wearer, not a sword wielded harshly by the bearer. #

The National Directorate


September 4, 2019

Netizens’ free expression in grave threat with cyberlibel conviction

THE CONVICTION of two radio broadcasters in Kidapawan City for simply expressing their opinion in social media –supposedly meant to provide an avenue for personal opinions and narratives – is the latest attack on free expression not only of media practitioners but of everyone who dare share their stand on burning issues. Their conviction may well be a signal that will herald a new wave of attacks against free speech and expression, rights that are in fact enshrined in our very own Constitution.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the conviction meted by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Kidapawan City to broadcasters Eric Rodinas of Radyo Natin and Larry Baja Subillaga who were charged with online libel by North Cotabato Governor Emmylou “Lala” Taliño-Mendoza.
In a decision dated March 22, the Kidapawan RTC convicted the two broadcasters of online libel with a penalty imprisonment ranging from a minimum of 4 years and one day to a maximum of 8 years and one day. The broadcasters were also ordered to pay P1 million fine, P1 million for moral damages, and P500,000 for examplary damages.

The case sprung from what Governor Taliño-Mendoza labelled as “malicious” statements posted by the two in their social media accounts last March 2017. In his Facebook post, Subillaga said that Taliño-Mendoza was fooling the people of the province, while Dugaduga said the governor became rich because of corruption. The broadcasters said that they will appeal their conviction before the Supreme Court.

This latest development proves what we have been pointing out ever since the passage of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012: that it can be exploited to silence criticism by well-entrenched and powerful people, especially government officials. RA 10175 not only criminalizes libel – something that has long been clamored to be decriminalized – but also sets penalties “one degree higher” than that provided for libel in the Revised Penal Code.

Weaponizing online libel adds to the long list of attacks perpetrated by state forces to the media, which include harassment of journalists, cyber attacks on newssites, legal debacles, and most heinously, killings. This latest development only intensifies the reigning climate of impunity brutely cultivated and propagated by the current administration. Online libel is yet another lethal weapon that can be abused to silence criticism by an apparent insecure government afraid of the truth. We reiterate our call to repeal the anti-cybercrime law, decriminalize libel, and to put a stop to all forms of attacks against legitimate dissent and free speech.