By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Various groups assailed today yet another attack on press freedom in the country, with a Manila court handing down a guilty verdict against Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa and their former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr.
“This decision is an attack on all those who value a free press and free expression. The lawsuit happens within the larger context of political repression and the Duterte regime’s vindictiveness against media institutions and journalists critical of its ineptitude and callousness,” said Lisa Ito, secretary general of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP).
The cyberlibel charge stemmed from an article involving a business tycoon that was published four months before the passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and updated in 2014 to correct a mere typographical error.
Both may face imprisonment for up to six years. They were allowed to post bail.
“The common responsibility of artists and journalists is the duty towards truth. We are disturbed how this further erodes any remaining semblance of democracy in Philippine society. Artists and cultural workers can not create freely in a society where the law is whimsically wielded to exact political repression and vengeance,” Ito said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the guilty verdict can be taken as the “tightening of civil liberties” particularly of press freedom and freedom of expression.
“This decision is another nail on the press freedom coffin and is very dangerous not just for journalists but for everybody who uses social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This verdict can be used to haul into court and jail anyone who exposes wrongdoing in government,” Zarate said.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the guilty verdict against Ressa and Santos, along with the gross rights violations and the looming passage aof an anti-terror law, a full-blown dictatorship is “made more palpable.”
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines said the criminalized libel here in the Philippines has always been used to silence the press. Meanwhile, campus journalists said “purveyors of fake news and disinformation remain scot-free from offenses.”