On June 15, the Manila Regional Trial Court dealt a blow to press freedom after convicting Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Rey Santos Jr. of cyber libel over a 2012 article that linked a businessman Wilfredo D. Keng to suspected illegal activities.
Ressa described the verdict as ‘devastating’ yet ‘not unexpected’ but assured people that she and her colleagues will keep fighting for press freedom.
She said, “The decision for me is devastating because it essentially says that we are wrong.
“It’s a blow to us, but it’s also not unexpected considering we are going to stand up against any kind of attack against press freedom.”
She further encouraged her fellow journalists and Filipinos to voice out their rights and not be intimidated by the powerful.
“Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen.
“I appeal to you, the journalists in room, the Filipinos who are listening, to protect your rights. We’re meant to be a cautionary tale, we are meant to make you afraid. I appeal again, don’t be afraid.
“Because if you don’t use your rights, you will lose them. If we don’t challenge a brazen move to try to roll back the rights guaranteed in the constitution, we will lose them. We shouldn’t be voluntarily giving up our rights.”
This message reached many Filipinos and also celebrities as they voiced out their sentiments and support for Ressa and the press for being an instrument in fighting against the unjust and calls for the right and truth.
Actress Janine Gutierrez on Twitter shared how promoting a culture of silence can kill democracy.
Kahit ano pa ang trabaho mo o kahit naiiba ang paniniwala mo sa nakararami, una sa lahat, Pilipino ka. May karapatan ka at may responsibilidad ka. Stay informed. Speak.
to those people who say those comments & promote this culture of silence – you're killing our democracy.
— JANINE (@janinegutierrez) June 15, 2020
Robi Domingo seconded this claim when he questioned democracy as a means to convict those who stand up for it.
How should we define Democracy? Fine and convict the people who stand up for it? #HoldTheLine
— Robi Domingo (@robertmarion) June 15, 2020
Jake Ejercito also raised the question of whether Ressa was a criminal or a victim of a vengeful system.
A criminal or yet another victim of a vindictive regime? #HoldTheLine ✊🏼 pic.twitter.com/wxWUXHZc1U
— jake ejercito (@unoemilio) June 15, 2020
Agot Isidro, Ria Atayde, and Lauren Young each shared the same view of the need to hold the line to press freedom.
Aside from holding the line, we should also draw the line already.
Tama na. This has got to stop. #DefendPressFreedom
— Agot Isidro (@agot_isidro) June 15, 2020
“If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything.” #DefendPressFreedom #CourageON #HoldTheLine
— Ria Atayde (@RiaAtayde) June 15, 2020
Y E S https://t.co/yWXVh78CSF
— Lauren Young (@loyoung) June 15, 2020
And many others posted their call to fight by using the hashtags #IStandWithMariaRessa, #DefendPressFreedom, #HoldTheLine.
— Ruffa Gutierrez (@iloveruffag) June 15, 2020
What a sad day for democracy.
Ang desisyon ng korte ay pagpatay sa malayang pagpapahayag ng pananalita.
Wag matakot, manindigan be vigilant!#IStandWithMariaRessa #DefendPressFreedom #HoldTheLine
— Roque Rox Santos (@roxsantos) June 15, 2020
We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.
1984 | George Orwell
First the network and now the journalists.
They’re silencing those who expose the truth. Somebody’s scared.
We see it all. #DefendPressFreedom #IStandWithMariaRessa
— Jin Macapagal (@jinmacapagal_) June 15, 2020
— David Licauco (@davidlicauco) June 15, 2020
Just woke up to the bad news. Oh wow. Pilipinas, hindi na kita kilala. Itong gobyernong ito, nalasing na sa kapangyarihan. Nakakasuka. #HoldTheLine #DefendPressFreedom
— Toñet (@tonetjadaone) June 15, 2020
“Do not be afraid. We will fight.” – @mariaressa
— DJ Chacha (@_djchacha) June 15, 2020
I believe Maria Resa should have been acquitted. Reasons: pic.twitter.com/TxgXUo75Jj
— Mel Sta.Maria (@attymeltweet) June 15, 2020
Amal Clooney, International Human Rights lawyer, also joined the call as she stressed that the cyber libel charge is baseless. She described it as ‘one of the most brazen and consequential cases of the decade.’
Clooney added: “It is clear to any reasonable observer that criminal charges for this do not stand up,” as she explained the law where the charges are made were still nonexistent at the time the story was published.
As the ruling is still upcoming she further said, “The way this case is handled will be a signal of what lies ahead.”
“So the world will be watching on Monday, and no one should be watching more closely than the [United States] government,” she noted. “Because as well as being Filipino, Maria is American.”
The court on its stand stated that although the Cybercrime Prevention Act did not exist at the time the online article was published, the lawsuit was accepted since it has been updated in 2014 to correct a spelling error. Aside from the cyber libel case they are also facing charges for tax fraud, violation of Securities Regulation Code, and Anti Dummy law.
Ressa and Santos were sentenced to between six months and six years in prison. While they were allowed bail they are still ordered to pay P200,000 in moral damages and another P200,000 in exemplary damages.
Maria Ressa was among journalists named TIME 2018 Person of the Year for their “pursuit of greater truths” in the face of threats. And was also included in the list TIME’s 2019 list of the 100 most influential people.