MANILA – The conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynalod Santos Jr. over a cyber libel is “a case of accountability”, as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said on Monday.
Panelo disagreed with opposition lawmakers who said their conviction is slowly killing press freedom.
”Ms. Ressa should stop telling her fellow journalists that this is a case against all of them too when she and her reporter who wrote the offending article were the only ones sued and convicted for allegedly transgressing an individual's rights,” Panelo said in a statement.
Panelo reminded Ressa that the libel case against her and Santos was filed by a private person, businessman Wilfred Keng.
In 2017, Keng filed cyber libel charges against the two for naming him in a 2012 report as having lent his sports utility vehicle for the use of then Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was then facing impeachment.
“Simply put, this a case between Ms. Ressa and Mr. Keng, whom the President does not know from Adam. It is a case of accountability upon those who abuse the freedom of the press,” Panelo said.
He said all journalists should take to heart the wisdom imparted by the Supreme Court because freedom of the press is “not absolute” and ends when it is abused and transgresses the rights of others.
Panelo also reminded Ressa of her right to post bail and avail of remedies to contest her conviction in higher courts.
Meanwhile, Panelo emphasized that no journalist has ever been brought to court by President Rodrigo Duterte despite the libelous articles written about him and his family by numerous journalists.
“The right to express oneself or to publish articles of dissent is sacrosanct as it is guaranteed by the Constitution. Its observance by the Administration is irrefutably evidenced by the fact that reporters, especially those from Rappler, continue to publish articles against this Administration’s policies,” he said.
Panelo said other journalists severely critical of Duterte more than Ressa, are still writing their articles without being sued, charged or arrested.
He added that critics and dissenters continue to air their protests in various media platforms against Duterte’s pronounced policies.
“They are eloquent proof that the freedom of the press in this part of the world is robust and unfettered,” he added.
Manila RTC Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa sentenced Ressa and Santos to imprisonment ranging from six months and one day to six years.
Ressa and Santos were ordered to pay Keng PHP400,000 in moral and exemplary damages. (PNA)