INQUIRER.net / 10:59 AM June 15, 2020
MANILA, Philippines — The guilty verdict of a Manila court on the cyberlibel case against Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. on Monday is a dangerous precedent not only for journalists but for everyone online, according to the online news portal.
“Today’s verdict sets a dangerous precedent not only for journalists but for everyone online. It weakens the ability of journalists to hold power to account as the one-year prescription period of libel is extended to 12 years,” Rappler said in a statement, shortly after the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 handed down the ruling.
It added that “today is a day of grief, mourning, and rage.”
“The decision today marks not the rule of law, but the rule of law twisted to suit the interests of those in power who connive to satisfy their mutually beneficial personal and political agenda. Today marks diminished freedom and more threats to democratic rights supposedly guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution, especially in the context of a looming anti-terrorism law,” the media company said.
Rappler noted that the court’s decision was “historic,” since it was handed down during a pandemic with quarantine restrictions still in place, and since it is the first verdict on one of the many court cases lodged against the company since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016.
The decision also came just three days after the country commemorated its 122th year of independence, the company pointed out.
“And it convicts a journalist, Maria Ressa – among TIME Magazine’s 2018 Person the Year awardees – and a former researcher-writer Rey Santos Jr over a case built on flimsy ground: a corrected typographical error,” Rappler said.
The media company pointed out how the correction in the typographical error was used as an “indescribable claim” about republication of the article that was published in May 2012, four months before the cybercrime law was enacted in September that year.
“This creative reinterpretation and twisting of the law became grounds to prosecute this case, filed 5 long years after the publication of a story about the late former chief justice Renato Corona and his ties to businessman Wilfredo Keng,” said Rappler.
Rappler meanwhile noted that even before the cybercrime law took effect, Filipino journalists and press freedom advocates had been pushing for the decriminalization of libel.
“This ruling, coupled with the cybercrime law, has made the space for a free press, free speech, and free expression even tighter and narrower,” it added.
Ressa and Santos were sentenced to jail for six months and one day up to six years and were allowed to post bail. The Rappler CEO completed the trial in only eight months, which Rappler said could possibly be the fastest libel trial in recent history.
In an interview with reporters, Ressa’s lawyer Theodore Te said their camp would proceed with either a motion for reconsideration or an appeal but added they have yet to make a decision on which legal action they will take.