Critics of the administration will likely use Rappler CEO Maria Ressa’s conviction for cyber libel to portray President Rodrigo Duterte as an enemy of press freedom, the Palace said on Monday.
“Sa darating na araw po, asahan po natin na ang mga kalaban ng gobyerno ay gagamitin ang conviction ni Maria Ressa for libel para sabihin na kalaban daw po ng kalayaan ng malayang pananalita at pamamahayag ang Presidente,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a televised briefing.
Roque also said Duterte has never filed libel cases against anyone and that the President is a supporter of press freedom and freedom of expression.
Malacanang, however, distanced the chief executive from the cyber libel conviction of one of Ressa.
Ressa on Monday was found guilty of cyber libel over a 2012 article that linked a businessman to alleged illegal activities. Former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. was also convicted in the case.
“Naniniwala po siya sa malayang pag-iisip at pananalita at ang paninindigan niya ang taong gobyerno hindi dapat onion-skinned (The President believes in free thinking and speech. He believes that government workers should not be onion-skinned.),” Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
“Suportado po ni Pangulong Duterte ang malayang pananalita at malayang pamamahayag (The President supports free speech and a free press),” he said.
The President’s support for freedom of the press can be proven when he backed Davao-based journalist Alexander Adonis over a libel charge and in pushing to decriminalize cyber libel, said Roque.
It can be recalled that Adonis’ libel case was filed by late House Speaker Prospero Nograles, a political rival of Duterte during his time as Davao City mayor.
Ressa on Monday said the court’s decision was meant to be a “cautionary tale” as she urged Filipinos to fight for their rights.
Rappler, which has published stories critical of the Duterte administration, has described cases and acts against it as an attack on press freedom.
“I appeal to you, the journalists in room, the Filipinos who are listening, to protect your rights. We’re meant to be a cautionary tale, we are meant to make you afraid. I appeal again, don’t be afraid,” Ressa told reporters.
Roque said Ressa’s claims had no basis. During his term as Davao City mayor, Duterte never filed a libel case against any journalist, he said.
Businessman Wilfredo Keng accused Rappler of smearing his reputation over a May 2012 article alleging that he allowed a former justice of the Supreme Court to use an SUV. The same article cited an “intelligence report“ alleging Keng had a shady past.
Rappler argued that the Anti-Cybercrime Law was approved months later, in September 2012. Keng denied the allegations and requested that the article be taken down, which the news website refused to do./Stacy Ang