Palace asks public to respect RTC decision vs Rappler CEO's cyber libel case
Malacañang urged on Monday the public to respect the decision of a trial court convicting Rappler's Executive Editor and CEO Maria Ressa and her former colleague guilty of violating Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act, particularly cyber libel.
But Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, in a virtual press briefing, insisted that President Rodrigo Duterte was not behind any move to suppress press freedom following the verdict against Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo delos Santos Jr.
Rappler, which is critical against the Duterte administration, earlier earned the ire of the President. Duterte has ordered the banning of Rappler's beat reporter in Malacañang and in any of his official activities.
Several tax evasion cases were also filed against Ressa and her company under the Duterte administration.
"The initial position of the President is this case has been heard by our court, let us respect the decision of the court," Roque said on the decision of Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa.
He said since Duterte became a mayor of Davao City and up to now that he is the president, he never filed any case against any journalist.
According to him, Duterte believes in press freedom and that the government officials should "not be onion skinned."
Roque also cited Duterte's support to a Davao-based broadcaster Alexander Adonis, who was found guilty over libel charge filed by then the President's nemesis, late House Speaker Prospero Nograles Jr.
The spokesman also said that the Cybercrime Prevention Act was passed during his predecessor, former President Benigno Aquino III.
"It's not the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, which pushed for the cyberlibel act - it's the administration of President Noynoy Aquino," he said.
He noted that when its constitutionality was challenged, including the decriminalization of libel as pushed by Adonis based on the recommendation of the UN Human Rights Committee after he brought up his case before the international body, the Supreme Court ruled that libel is not a constitutionally protected speech and that the government has an obligation to protect private individuals from defamation.
"This proves that the President is not behind any move to allegedly curtail the freedom of expression and of the press," Roque said.
He belied Ressa's accusation that the decision against her and her colleague by the RTC was not about Rappler or her but about the right for freedom of the press, which is the foundation of every single right of a Filipino citizen.
"There's no basis for that, she is barking at the wrong tree. The President supported Alexander Adonis when he went to the UN Human Rights Committee. What evidence do you still need that the President is one of the strongest supporters of the freedom of expression and freedom of the press that in no time in his career he filed a libel case to anyone?" he stressed.
Roque, who is also a lawyer, said that in Ressa's case, the complainant was a private individual and not a public figure.
"In our libel law, there is what we call as malice in law, malice in fact. When the complainant is a private individual, there is a presumption of malicious reporting. Whereas, when the complainant is a public figure, like a person from government, there is a need to establish the malice in law, that there is really a malice," he added.
Businessman Wilfredo Keng filed the cyber libel case against Ressa and Santos in 2017 in relation to an article, which was initially carried by Rappler in 2012 and re-posted five years after reportedly due to typographical error. Celerina Monte/DMS