[Statement] A punishment for those who dare to tell the truth -LILAK

A punishment for those who dare to tell the truth
– LILAK Statement on Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos’ Cyber Libel Conviction

LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights) condemns the conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher and writer Reynaldo Santos for cyber libel. The case made against Ressa and Santos is an obvious weaponization of the law to silence dissent and sow fear in the free press. The conviction is a punishment for those who dare to tell the truth.

Civil society organizations and indigenous peoples work closely with the media in shedding light on human rights violations perpetrated by corporations and the government. Media has been our partner in seeking justice. Rappler has helped us spread stories from indigenous communities to a wider audience.

Ressa and Santos’ conviction, the shutdown of ABS-CBN, and the railroading of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 are orchestrated attacks on dissenters and human rights defenders. These assaults benefit from the pandemic, a crisis the government continues to ignore while it strengthens the pillars of its dictatorship.

Indigenous peoples have long fought for the protection of natural resources and our environment from extractive industries such as mining. Wilfredo Keng is CEO of Century Peak Metals Holdings Corp (CPM), one of the mining companies recommended for suspension by former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez for environmental violations. However, in 2017, CPC passed DENR’s mining audit under current Sec. Roy Cimatu. Reports also show that Keng has significant ties with the Duterte administration. His daughter, Patricia Keng, was appointed member of the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) by Duterte in 2019.

It is not the first time that the Duterte administration has favored Chinese corporations over indigenous peoples. It has not been a year since he announced that he will use his “extraordinary powers” as president to pursue China-backed Kaliwa Dam, one of his ‘Build Build Build’ projects which will displace thousands of indigenous peoples and destroy hectares of ancestral lands.

The country is enveloped in fear as the space for dissent narrows and darkens. Indigenous women leaders who defend their rights on the ground carry an even greater fear. If politicians such as Leila de Lima and journalists such as Maria Ressa are imprisoned from speaking up, how will they, who live in far-flung communities with no access to technology and whose names are not known, survive this tyrannical government?

In 2019, the Philippines has been named the most dangerous place for land rights defenders. Indigenous leaders were among those killed.

For indigenous women, fear is overwhelming. Yet there is no choice for them but to carry on.

LILAK, an organization of feminists and women human rights activists and a member of In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND), stands in solidarity with Rappler, journalists, and the free press. In a time when our voices are repressed, we must find in ourselves the courage to speak and lend our voices to others. We must hold the line – to press freedom, to right to speak against injustice, to live without fear, and to fight a dictator.

#HoldTheLine #IStandWithMariaRessa #DefendPressFreedom #ScrapTerrorBill #ResistDictatorship

Illustration by Shar Balagtas

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