Calling the attention of the world, Rappler founder Maria Ressa said her recent court conviction for a cyber libel charge had set an “ominous global pattern of threats against news media,” which was, to say the least, a tremendous stretch of the imagination.
Journalists envy the overseas reach of the American who was a former CNN mainstay and her ability to spin a case which, for all purposes, involves a private individual’s pursuit of redress over a fake news that maligned his name.
Ressa and her followers wanted to create an illusion that no less than President Rody Duterte was behind the complaint as part of what they claim as a systematic campaign to muzzle critical media.
Now the tale has become taller and the cyber libel case is now being associated with United States President Donald Trump and the so-called strongmen of the world who are “pushing inexorably in the direction of authoritarianism.”
By the same token, the magistrate, Manila City RTC Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa, who convicted Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel and sentenced them to six months up to six years in prison, has become a fair target for the yellow mob and the supporters of the online news outfit publisher.
Judges who are used to practicing dignified silence on unfounded attacks on court decisions are gladly pushing back.
A statement issued by the Philippine Judges Association (PJA) through its president Judge Felix Reyes said “the assaults went to the edge of portraying that the ‘rule of law in the Philippines is broken and democracy is under threat.’”
Such allegations, indeed, had politicized the judicial process.
The judges said they were saddened by how the judiciary is being dragged and vilified just because a decision was rendered in a manner not acceptable to the parties therein.
According to the statement, the “attacks on the judiciary are so vicious that (these) may lead to the public losing faith and respect in our judicial system.”
The members of the judiciary pointed out that “courts settle controversies on the basis of facts and law.”
Reyes indicated “the facts are established by evidence and the law is applied to the facts established. When a party loses the case, there are remedies available under the law,” it said.
Of course, Ressa would rather not discuss such procedures that ensure fairness in the justice system since it would not benefit her delusion of persecution.
Under the rules of courts, Rappler, Ressa and Santos can still file before the RTC a motion for reconsideration. If the motion is denied, the case can be elevated to the Court of Appeals and eventually to the Supreme Court.
Citing a 2008 SC decision, Reyes said in the statement: “Everyone is reminded that ‘personal attacks, criticisms laden with political threats, those that misrepresent and distort the nature and context of judicial decisions, those that are misleading or without factual or legal basis, and those that blame the judges for the ills of society damage the integrity of the judiciary and threaten the doctrine of judicial independence.”
The attacks were particularly painful for Judge Montesa who has built a solid reputation as a trial court judge for the past 14 years.
She has been “a highly regarded lecturer” of the Philippine Judicial Academy, the Council of Europe, the United States Homeland Security and the US Department of Justice Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training on cybercrime and intellectual property, the PJA said.
In Ressa’s grander scheme of things, running roughshod over the reputation of judges, the judiciary system and even the whole country is but a necessity.