Quezon City, Philippines — One month after network giant ABS-CBN got shut down by a cease and desist order from the National Telecommunication Commission, Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa was convicted over cyber libel charges, Monday, June 15. The Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 sentenced Ressa to a minimum of six months and one day to a maximum of six years in jail.
The social development network, Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc (PMPI) expressed “dismay and outrage over these turns of events. In a statement it said that the right of people to access information is violated by these actions and is a de-facto government crackdown on media perceived to be hostile to it. The need to provide a balance information, not only government propaganda is healthy for society’s democracy. Democracy is founded on the capability of its citizens to critical information.
PMPI National Coordinator, Yoly R. Esguerra further said that “The indictment of Maria Ressa and the continuing cases filed against her, are not only about Maria, or Rappler, or even just an issue of press freedom. It is the asphyxiation of our democracy, an indication of a sick and manipulated justice system, of legislative lapdogs, of a control-freak and vindictive executive branch.”
She adds “that information should be considered as an “oxygen of democracy”. The ability of citizens to participate effectively in the social and political life of the nation depends, in obvious ways, on the breath of information it receives.”
Echoing statements of many rights group, it says that this is another nail in the coffin for our already strangled democratic rights and a clearly an intimidation to all dissenters of the Duterte administration. It further said that the indictment is an attack to press freedom, especially since President Rodrigo Duterte has been very vocal against the online news outlet, he even banned Rappler from Malacañang because of its supposed ‘twisted’ reporting in 2018.
“These developments are very disconcerting, to say the least. We are being pushed to the slope of authoritarian rule – all using the semblance of law, which is not meant to serve the common good but to entrench the ruling power. Any voice of protest is being shut up. Independent thought is being muffled. And fear is being instilled in many,” Manila Bishop and PMPI Bishop Convenor, Broderick Pabillo stated from his Facebook post.
“The work of Maria Ressa, Rey Santos and the rest of the Rappler team is like any other media institution – to tell the truth and tell it when and where it matters. The decision of the courts to find them guilty of cyber libel sets a chilling effect to all media outfits. We are outraged by the decision and we stand by Maria Ressa, Rey Santos, Rappler, and press freedom. We want the truth and the freedom to openly express the truth. We cannot let press freedom be continually threatened with suppression and fear,” PMPI Co-Convenor for Luzon and Advocacy Officer of CODE-NGO, Sandino Soliman said.
“We need to Hold the Line. There is no room for fear if we want to have our rights. Our rights are all fruits of the struggle by people who dared to tackle the Goliath. Rights will not be served in a silver platter. We should be like David, unmoved by the giants”, the statement ended.