TORONTO, Feb.15, 2019–BAYAN-Canada calls on the Philippine government and justice officials to drop the charges against Maria Ressa, founder and head of media outfit Rappler.
Ressa was arrested on February 13 over a “cyber libel” complaint from a businessman. Rappler said the businessman filed the complaint five years after the article appeared in 2012, and the law under which Ressa was charged by the government, the Cybercrime Prevention Act, did not go into effect until months after the article’s publication. Mr. Duterte’s government said the arrest was a normal step in response and has nothing to do with press freedom. She was able to post bail the next day.
Ressa’s case is just one of the unceasing attacks on press freedom. Shortly before being sworn in as president in June 2016, Mr. Duterte gave a warning: “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch. Freedom of expression cannot help you if you have done something wrong.”
According to National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Chairperson Jose Jaime “Nonoy” Espina on his interview with Radyo Migrante, “[Duterte] laid down the premise of his relationship with media.” For two years under Duterte regime, 12 journalists have been murdered, a glaring example of the threats and unresolved cases against media practitioners face everyday. By the end of 2018, the Philippines was dubbed as the “deadliest peacetime country for journalists” in Southeast Asia, as cited by the International Federation of Journalists.
If unchecked, the regime will continue to jail opposition using trumped-up charges and the corrupt court system as a way to silence critics. Philippine media practice has also become more vulnerable through disinformation on social media, rampant harassment from paid trolls and cyber attacks on alternative media sites such as Altermidya, Bulatat, Kodao Productions, Pinoy Weekly among others that are critical of its policies.
These need to stop. Else, such tactics to thwart the truth will be emulated and replicated that a culture of impunity persists. The international community should not hesitate at exposing and opposing the Duterte regime and should continue to be critical to this regime’s anti-Democratic and anti-people policies. Press freedom as a basic tenet of a democratic society must be respected, protected and upheld as well as all the collective people’s rights.
We call on freedom-loving Filipinos and Canadians to support our call to defend our rights and freedoms. Join the national democratic movement. We shall continue hold the Philippine government to account and struggle towards justice and peace based on genuine democracy.
Rhea A. Gamana
BAYAN Canada, an overseas chapter an overseas chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance), is an alliance of organizations of Filipino migrant workers, women and youth, indigenous people, churchpeople, healthcare workers and professionals committed to advancing the cause of genuine national independence, people’s democracy and a just and lasting peace in the Philippines.