June 15, 2020 — BAYAN-Canada condemns the guilty verdict against Maria Ressa, founder and head of media outfit Rappler, and former Rappler researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. on cyber libel charges. They are the first two journalists in the Philippines to be convicted for cyber libel.
A Manila court sentenced Ressa and Santos Jr. to six months up to six years in jail over a 2012 article which allegedly linked a businessman to human trafficking and drug smuggling. The libel complaint filed by this businessman against Ressa and Rappler was dismissed in 2018. The National Bureau of Investigation reversed this decision and recommended the prosecution of Ressa and Santos to the Justice Ministry on charges of cyber libel. It is important to remember that Rappler published the article four months before the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 came into force in September 2012.
Ressa, who still faces seven charges of alleged tax fraud, has described these as“politically motivated” following years of intimidation since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte came into office in 2016.
The harassment of journalists and independent media occurs in the context of the Duterte regime’s systematic campaign to suppress free speech and to demonize dissent. Media workers reporting the government’s overreach and continued human rights violations in the Philippines face repeated attacks by the Duterte regime, the military, and the courts.This tactic to thwart the truth is in the context of deliberate attempt to curtail freedom and to usurp power. Moreover, the legislative move for the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 dangerously targets not only journalists but it also criminalizes anyone suspected of inciting to commit “terrorism.” It confirms widespread fears of a Duterte dictatorship gaining the upper hand amid the COVID-19 pandemic when the people ask for mass testing only to have their voices muzzled.
BAYAN-Canada demands an immediate end to any act of harassment and political persecution of Ressa, Santos Jr., Rappler, and all human rights defenders in the Philippines.
If these attacks go unchecked, harassment and intimidation will worsen especially in relation to the elections as the Duterte regime tries to impose its will on the electorate.
BAYAN-Canada enjoins the international community in our calls to defend press freedom, to promote the people’s right to information and to demand transparency and accountability.