[Statement] Sad day for Press Freedom — Nagkaisa
Nagkaisa Labor Coalition is enraged and gravely concerned with the conviction of administration critic Maria Ressa and his former news staff Reynaldo Santos for Cyber libel.
The article subject of the charges not only involved a private individual allegedly defamed but matters of public concerns. Matters involving one of the richest businessmen in the country, a high member of the highest court and some criminal shenanigans — which data were obtained from the intelligence community.
To expose them is not only the right of a journalist but also the right of the public to receive and evaluate.
The decision failed to consider that criminal law has no retroactive effect. The law on anti-cyber libel was not yet enacted at the time the subject article was published in 2012. The publication was a few months before the effectivity of Cyber-libel law. Thus, no one can be convicted of cybercrime when there is yet no law punishing it at the time of publication.
The prosecutors’ contention that a supposedly “republished” version of the story in February 2014 is covered by the law is doubtful and unconvincing to hold on. The defense had a credible witness who rebutted the theory of “republication”. As part of the editorial team, she categorically pointed to the fact that the change made to the story in 2014 was merely a clerical or “spelling correction.” On this ground alone, as there is reason to doubt, the defendants should have been acquitted.
Also, the decision of RTC Branch 46 of Manila is hard to fathom that it did not consider this context. More reprehensible is that its verdict goes against clearly established rules on the prescription of crimes under the Revised Penal Code and the Supreme Court, where it is clear that libel cases should be brought to the court one (1) year after its commission. Rappler’s case was filed 5 years after it was originally published, and 3 years after it was “republished”.
This decision has a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of expression — particularly so with the impending adoption of a constitutionally infirmed anti-terror law.
This decision can be perceived as just one of the multitude of examples of how laws are being weaponized to go after perceived political opponents. It is worth reiterating that the Philippines is one of the few countries with criminal libel laws, and that the United Nations already pushed for its decriminalization as it described it as “excessive”.
And to think that the Anti-Terrorism Act has not yet been enacted into law. We can easily imagine how the said legislation would trample and disparage our rights.
June 15, 2020
Ref: Atty Sonny Matula
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