Media watchdog: Freedom of expression a ‘personal challenge’ to all Filipinos
MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos must consider and discuss the implications of the cyber libel conviction of Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said on Tuesday, June 16.
CMFR issued the call a day after Judge Rainelda Estacio Montesa ruled that Ressa and Santos were guilty of cyber libel, sentencing them to a minimum of 6 months and 1 day to a maximum of 6 years in jail over charges filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng.
"With the conviction for cyber libel of Rappler’s Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr, every Filipino must take the cause of freedom of expression as a personal challenge, whatever personal, political, business, and other interests they may hold," CMFR said in its statement, titled "It isn't just about Rappler."
"We can only endure if we believe and respect that free expression and press freedom make up the cornerstone of common good," it added.
CMFR said the media must ramp up efforts to support press freedom, free expression, and the right to information because the verdict is likely to instill fear among journalists, civil society organizations, and ordinary citizens who use the internet as a personal platform. Everyone is at risk of imprisonment, it said, both under the libel law and the 2012 Cybercrime Prevention Act.
Ressa and Santos' case stemmed from a 2012 article on former chief justice Renato Corona's links to businessmen, including Keng. The article was published 4 months before the Cybercrime Law was enacted in September 2012 while the case was filed in 2017 or 5 years later, beyond the typical one-year prescription period for libel under the Revised Penal Code. (READ: What Rappler conviction means for reporting confidential sources)
The verdict affirmed that the 2012 Cybercrime Prevention Act is an ex post facto law, CMFR said, which is unconstitutional. It also affirmed that the statute of limitations on the act extends to 12 years, making anyone who posted online during this time susceptible to being sued for libel. (READ: After ruling vs Ressa, uploaded old print articles vulnerable to cyberl libel)
The threat to free expression and press freedom hasn't been this pronounced since the Marcos' Martial Law regime, CMFR added. It is a decision that "serves to terrorize all Filipinos into silence."
"This is a matter that calls all citizens as stakeholders in the future of Philippine democracy," said CMFR.
It called on the media to fix their attention on Rappler's appeal, for civil society to adopt the cause as their own, and for the youth to learn more about the issue and defend the internet and free expression.
Ressa and Santos' conviction can be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. They are entitled to post-conviction bail while they exhaust legal remedies in higher courts.
CMFR said all Filipinos are called to be responsible for and defend the Philippines' democratic principles for future generations. – Rappler.com