“Do you believe that?” Ressa responds to Malacañang’s statement that President Duterte upholds press freedom

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 15) — “Do you believe that?”

This was Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa’s response to CNN Philippines’ Rico Hizon on Monday when she was asked to comment on Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque’s remarks that President Rodrigo Duterte values press freedom in the country.

Ressa pointed out that aside from Rappler, Duterte has repeatedly threatened the Philippine Daily Inquirer and broadcast giant ABS-CBN during his four years in office because of their critical coverage of the government.

“Actions, actions speak louder than words. He has threatened journalists not just in words but in actions,” stressed Ressa.

In a briefing today, Roque insisted Duterte has nothing to do with Ressa’s conviction and that the President supports press freedom.

"Naniniwala po siya sa malayang pananalita at ang paninindigan niya, ang taong gobyerno ay hindi dapat onion-skinned, hinaharap ang puna ng taumbayan lalo na kung ito ay nanggagaling sa media," he said.

[Translation: The President believes in free speech, he maintains that public officials should not be onion-skinned and should face criticisms from the public, especially those coming from the media.]

The embattled Rappler CEO cried foul over the government’s abuse of power regarding her case and the violation of her rights.

“I have been a journalist for almost 35 years. I’ve worked in many different countries around the world. Yet, that time period I have never been called a criminal. Now, this government has done that and it is codified,” said Ressa.

Calls to uphold and defend press freedom continued to mount following the guilty verdict handed down against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former writer-researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. over a cyber libel case.

Despite concerns on the court decision’s implications to the current state of the press, Ressa herself urged fellow journalists to continue on with their duties — even with fear hounding their storytelling processes.

She appealed to media personnel to continue fighting for and protecting their rights.

“Don’t be afraid, because if you don’t use your rights, you will lose them,” Ressa told reporters in a briefing after the court proceedings.

“If we don’t challenge a brazen move to try to roll back the rights guaranteed in the Constitution, we will lose them," she said. "We shouldn’t be voluntarily giving up our rights.”

Ressa also warned against the possible intimidation of those in power against journalists, and reminded her colleagues to look straight past these factors and just “do the story.”

“There’s a sword hanging over journalists’ heads," she said, "and what I’d recommend, this is the lesson we’ve learned, is that you have to look at that sword, acknowledge that it’s meant to make you doubt yourself, it’s meant to make you not push as hard because there will be consequences…"

"What you need to do is back that away and look ahead and do the stories,” she added, noting how investigative journalism is much more essential today than ever.

Rappler’s legal camp said it will file an appeal against the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46’s ruling, which sentenced both Ressa and Santos to up to six years in jail for violating the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

The case stemmed from a 2012 Rappler investigative article which reported on businessman Wilfredo Keng’s alleged connection to illegal activities. Keng filed the complaint in 2017, nearly five years after the story was posted on the online website.

READ: 'Free press, free speech narrower': Rappler slams cyber libel verdict on Ressa

After the verdict announcement, Keng’s camp said it was pleased with the decision, with justice now on deck for Keng.

Ressa, for her part, appealed to the government to “learn to work with journalists.”

“We are not your enemies,” Ressa stated.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines said while the move may possibly cause a “chilling effect” on the media, this should inspire journalists to hang on to their respective duties.

“I think instead of having that chilling effect on media, I think it should fortify your resolve to do your professional jobs better,” IBP president Domingo Cayosa told CNN Philippines’ The Source.