Malacañang says we should respect Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46’s decision to convict Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel. In this televised press briefing, the Palace says that Pres. Rodrigo Duterte is a supporter of press freedom.
“Naniniwala po siya sa malayang pag-iisip at pananalita at ang paninindigan nya ang taong gobyerno ay hindi dapat onion-skinned kinakailangan hinaharap ang pula ng taumbayan, lalo na kung ito ay nanggagaling sa ating media,” says Presidential Spokesperson Roque in the press briefing. He also reminded everyone that Duterte supported Davao broadcaster Alexander Adonis who faced a libel case in the past.
This libel case was filed by then House Speaker Davao and former first district Congressman Prospero Nograles. He was Duterte’s former political rival when he ran for mayor in his hometown. Back then, Adonis ran a series of commentaries calling Nograles a “Burlesque King.” Roque served as Adonis’ legal counsel during his time as a human rights lawyer.
It’s well known that Rappler is a critic of the president. In the past years, the media outlet exposed a pro-Duterte network churning alleged fake news on the internet as well as putting out extensive coverage of the president’s war on drugs efforts. According to Inquirer, “Ressa and Rappler’s former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. were sentenced to jail for six months and one day up to six years and were allowed to post bail.”
Back in 2016, Duterte dared the media to boycott coverage of him as the country’s next president. “Putangina sinabi ko mga ugok, putangina I can lose the presidency, my life, my honor. Just don’t fuck with me. Huwag niyo na akong takutin. Boycott, boycott, leche kayo, edi mag-boycott kayo!” says Duterte. “As a matter of fact, I’m challenging you guys: Kill journalism. Stop journalism in this country.”
In the same 2016 press con, Duterte said journalists’ vow to pursue stories for public service and to seek the truth is bullshit. He also claims the industry is just a “paid act” to serve as a mouthpiece. When asked if he will apologize for his harsh statements, he said: “No apologies, bullshit.”
When the source of his wealth was questioned by press in 2019, Duterte called out journalists by claiming they’re investigating him for the sake of earning money. “Makita mo ’yung utak ng mga investigative journalism kaya…pera-pera lang. Binabayaran ’yan kung ganun kalaki,” says Duterte.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said the Manila court’s decision on Ressa and Santos “basically kills freedom of speech and of the press.” Senators Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros also slammed this decision, claiming Ressa’s conviction “will not be the last” if we remain silent on how the government treats their critics and its media practitioners.
Art by Rogin Losa