We denounce the unfounded and baseless allegations linking President Rodrigo Duterte to the conviction of Rappler’s Ms. Maria Ressa and Mr. Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel.
Following the facts of the case, the cyber libel suit against the defendants was brought up and put forward by Mr. Wilfredo Keng, a private individual, following Rappler’s May 2012 publication of an investigative report affiliating Mr. Keng with the late Chief Justice Renato Corona.
With Rappler’s constant refusal and denial of Mr. Keng’s basic human rights on the matter, the latter sought justice and protection of his rights from the Philippines’ independent and impartial courts, which decided that Ms. Ressa and Mr. Santos were guilty.
The decision of Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 on the case was not an attack on press freedom nor on freedom of speech, but an adherence to the rule of law and due process prescribed in our democratic constitution. Moreover, this instance is a product of Ms. Ressa and Mr. Santos’ disregard and negligence to Mr. Keng’s rights. It is a case of accountability.
Linking President Duterte to the conviction is a blatant disregard of the fact that the Judiciary is separate from the Executive Branch and is a disrespect to the independence and impartiality of the Regional Trial Court following the facts of the case. Furthermore, saying that the President had a hand in the conviction is a denial that people are legally answerable for violating the law, whether that person is a journalist or not.
Although Rappler, Ms. Ressa, and their supporters continue to conveniently blur the lines between press freedom and legal obligations, we must all continue to be reminded that we are all bound by the laws of the land and that the exercise of freedom must be used with due regard to the rights and freedom of others.