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Cyber libel conviction of Ressa not an attack on press freedom — Andanar

By Genalyn Kabiling and Noreen Jazul

The cyber libel conviction of Rappler head Maria Ressa is not an attack on press freedom and any attempt to link President Duterte to the verdict is “unfounded and baseless,” a Palace official said Wednesday.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar asserted that the court ruling was a case of accountability after a private individual filed a complaint against Ressa in a bid to protect his rights from an article written by Rappler.

Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa has found Rappler’s Executive Editor and CEO Maria Ressa and its former researcher-writer Rey Santos Jr. guilty of violating Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act specifically for cyber libel. Ressa conducted a press briefing after the hearing. (Jansen Romero / MANILA BULLETIN)

Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa has found Rappler’s Executive Editor and CEO Maria Ressa and its former researcher-writer Rey Santos Jr. guilty of violating Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act specifically for cyber libel. Ressa conducted a press briefing after the hearing. (Jansen Romero / MANILA BULLETIN)

“We denounce the unfounded and baseless allegations linking President Rodrigo Duterte to the conviction of Rappler’s Ms. Maria Ressa and Mr. Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel,” Andanar said.

“Linking President Duterte to the conviction is a blatant disregard of the fact that the Judiciary is separate from the Executive Branch and is a disrespect to the independence and impartiality of the Regional Trial Court following the facts of the case,” he said.

Andanar said alleging the President had a hand in the conviction of Ressa would be “a denial that people are legally answerable for violating the law, whether that person is a journalist or not.”

A Manila regional trial court earlier found Ressa and former writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. guilty of cyber libel over an article that supposedly defamed businessman Wilfredo Keng. They were sentenced to a prison sentence of up to six years and ordered to pay damages.

Andanar dispelled allegations that the conviction of Ressa was a blow to the country’s media freedom. He said Keng merely sought justice and protection of rights from the court following Rappler’s “constant refusal and denial” of his basic rights on the matter.

“The decision of Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 on the case was not an attack on press freedom nor on freedom of speech, but an adherence to the rule of law and due process prescribed in our democratic constitution,” he said.

“Moreover, this instance is a product of Ms. Ressa and Mr. Santos’ disregard and negligence to Mr. Keng’s rights. It is a case of accountability,” he added.

Andanar also took a swipe at Ressa, Rappler, and their supporters for allegedly blurring the lines between press freedom and legal obligations. He said everyone must follow the law.

“We must all continue to be reminded that we are all bound by the laws of the land and that the exercise of freedom must be used with due regard to the rights and freedom of others,” he said.

The United States and European Union External Action Service (EEAS) have expressed concern over Rappler CEO Maria Ressa’s conviction for cyber libel.

“The United States is concerned by the trial court’s verdict against journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos and calls for resolution of the case in a way that reinforces the US and Philippines’ long shared commitment to freedom of expression, including for members of the press,” US Department of State spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement Tuesday.

The EEAS, for its part, said the Manila Regional Trial Court’s verdict against Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos “raises serious doubts over the respect for freedom of expression as well as for the rule of law in the Philippines.”

“Freedom of opinion and expression, online and offline, are essential parts of any democracy worldwide. The European Union will always stand up for these fundamental rights,” the EEAS added.

The EEAS said it expects the Philippines to “uphold its international human rights obligations and protect and promote fundamental freedoms,” citing that the country is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which “enshrines the right to freedom of expression” in Article 19.


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://news.mb.com.ph/2020/06/17/cyber-libel-conviction-of-ressa-not-an-attack-on-press-freedom-andanar/)

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