They said the whole world was watching. If that was the case, then the whole world knows Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and her former writer Reynaldo Santos Jr are now convicted criminals. This was after a Manila court judge found both of them guilty of violating the cyber libel law. The question is, are members of the international community going to respect the decision of a local court or are they going to look down on this decision because they assume everything that happens in a Third World country like the Philippines is a “travesty”?
Indeed, as soon as the decision was handed down, foreign journalists and high-profile individuals like former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed their outrage on social networking site Twitter. There was enough support for Ressa to convince us that she would have been more successful as a lobbyist than a journalist. She certainly had a lot of foreigners fooled — foreigners who already had preconceived notions about the Philippines being a “rogue state”, no thanks to Ressa herself who has been telling everyone who cares to listen that “it’s worse than a war zone”. They all think “democracy is dead” and that “press freedom” is being undermined by the current government. They all blame President Rodgrigo Duterte and accuse him of “weaponizing” the law.
As expected, Ressa and supporters both local and abroad were all “shocked” by the verdict. They thought her PR blitz around the world would be enough to acquit her of the libel case filed by Wilfredo Keng – a private individual who was wronged when a 2012 Rappler article written by Santos published damning claims that Keng lent his sports utility vehicle to then Chief Justice Renato Corona. This was during Corona’s impeachment trial and Rappler played a big role in demonising the former magistrate. A series of articles painting Corona under a negative light were published during the trial including that particular one claiming Keng was involved in human and drug trafficking. They were trying to convince the public that Corona was hanging out with the “wrong” crowd.
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I guess you could say the ghost of Corona is still haunting the people who wronged him. He died a broken man shortly after being removed from his post in the Supreme Court. Ressa and her Rappler team played a role in his removal by engaging in character assassination. Those who support Ressa, especially those who did not follow Corona’s trial almost a decade ago, have no idea what they are talking about. Rappler published libelous content against a private individual just to help convict a former Chief Justice. Ressa deserves what she got for supporting former President Benigno Simeon Aquino’s crusade against an innocent man he considers his enemy. Keng is not Ressa’s only victim, but Keng brought justice not just to himself but also to Corona and the public who saw the injustice Ressa was committing then.
Expressions of support for Ressa would have you believe that the judge who presided over the case is corrupt and only bowed to Duterte’s wishes. They are disrespecting the rule of law by saying this. It is quite baffling considering Ressa still needs the court for her appeal. A smart person would want the judges to be on her side. That’s not going to happen if she keeps saying they are in cahoots with Duterte. It would be stupid of her and her supporters to malign members of the judiciary and paint them as Duterte’s lap dogs. The judiciary is an independent branch of government. Duterte cannot dictate his wishes on the judges. To say Ressa’s conviction is because of Duterte is tantamount to saying the court judges are corrupt. Whoever is saying that should be prosecuted.
Ressa and her supporters do not feel sorry for Keng. Rappler damaged his reputation but they still do not want to accept that the article they published broke the cyber libel law. She is not remorseful and doesn’t seem to have any plans of apologising. She keeps insisting that she is entitled to “press freedom”.
The concept behind press freedom is having the right to print or publicise factual information that is vital to the interests or safety of the public. It is not about the right to malign others without suffering the consequences. As a matter of fact, Ressa abused her power as a so-called journalist. She violated other people’s right to due process. She condemned people like Corona and Keng by publishing unverified and false information about them.
Ressa also continues to condemn Duterte before the international community by insisting he stifles dissent and is killing democracy. But Ressa and the rest of the Opposition have been saying that since Day One of Duterte’s Presidency. They contradict themselves everytime they say that. They have been enjoying their freedom to complain under Duterte for years. Proof of this is the fact that Ressa’s jet-setting lifestyle was not affected despite her incessant accusations against Duterte. She can go in and out of the Philippines without any hassle.
The members of the press will be fine as long as they don’t publish libelous content. I really hope other members of the media will learn from this. The conviction of former Rappler staff Santos Jr together with Ressa for violating the cyber libel law should serve as a warning to other Rappler staff. Ressa got Santos in trouble because she is a bad editor and her other cases still pending could prove she is a bad CEO. That could spell the end for Rappler. If I were them, I would look for another job now and not wait for the company to fold.
It’s getting tiring to read articles painting Ressa as a victim. She is not. She has a powerful tool — a media company that can and did ruin people’s reputations. She is just hiding behind the “press freedom” mantra. That freedom doesn’t include maligning others she doesn’t agree with.
I hate to rain on everyone’s parade, but it remains to be seen if Ressa will meet her cell mates any time soon. She is out on bail and will appeal before the highest court in the land. She is already using her conviction to advance her agenda to have Duterte removed by an international syndicate. We will see if her American citizenship will get her US support. But that can only mean the Philippine government can charge her with treason. I don’t think that is bailable.
In life, things are not always what they seem.