Manila, Philippines – On June 15, Monday, one of the Philippines’ most prominent journalists, and founder of Filipino independent news site Rappler, Maria Ressa, was convicted guilty of cyber libel. Many Filipinos and journalists around the world were shocked by the decision of a Manila court.
The news website Rappler, Ressa, along with the executive editor, and former researcher and writer Reynaldo Santos Jr., were accused of cyber libel over a story that alleged links between a businessman and a top judge.
After a hearing, a press conference had been held, where Ressa stated,
“Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything.”
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As the name suggests, libel is defined as written defamation that damages a person’s reputation. In this case, the statement or story had been posted online.
The decision sparks controversy because of the story written in 2012 links between then Philippine Chief Justice Renato Corona and wealthy businessmen. In the same year, Corona was impeached and removed from office. In 2016, the former Philippine Chief Justice died.
Santos wrote the story before the cyber libel law came into effect in the country. However, the PH government said Rappler “republished the story two years later for what Ressa maintains was to fix a “typo,” the publication exposed itself to the new law,” NPR reported.
Amal Clooney, the head of Ressa’s legal defense team, was dismayed over the decision. She is hoping that United States will take an action on this issue.
“This conviction is an affront to the rule of law, a stark warning to the press, and a blow to democracy in the Philippines,” Clooney said.
Before she became the co-founder of Rappler, she worked as a lead investigative reporter in Southeast Asia for CNN for nearly two decades. In 2004, she headed the news division of ABS-CBN, while writing for CNN and The Wall Street Journal. In 2018, Time Magazine included her as ‘Person of the Year.’
Ressa was arrested in February 2019. After that incident, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement:
“appears to be the latest element in a pattern of intimidation of a media outlet that has fiercely guarded its independence and its right to conduct in-depth investigations and to criticize the authorities.”
Ressa and Santos were both found guilty but they are entitled to post-conviction bail, and the court ordered them to pay 200,000 Philippine pesos or $3981.29 in moral damages and another 200,000 pesos in exemplary damages. Though found guilty, they can appeal against the verdict, and the publication, Rappler, has no liability.
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