Malacañang has defended the legitimacy of criminal raps against Rappler CEO and founder Maria Ressa after European lawmakers urged the government to drop charges against the veteran journalist.
In a statement over the weekend, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the tax evasion cases, alleged anti-dummy and securities code violations, and cyber libel complaints against Ressa and Rappler are “founded on the Philippines’ jurisprudence and Constitution.”
His remarks came after the European Parliament called the administration to drop “politically motivated” charges against Ressa and ex-Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. as it sounded the alarm over “deteriorating level of press freedom” in the Philippines.
“The freedom of expression and press freedom has never been and will never be curtailed by the Duterte administration. This as we continue to promote our shared democratic ideals with the international community,” Andanar said.
“In fact, the Philippines continues to enjoy a plurality of voices, expression, opinions, and beliefs; hence, the continued operations of Rappler and Ms. Ressa’s pursuit for self-justification in response to their legal obligations,” he added.
In June, Ressa and Santos were convicted of cyber libel over the complaint filed in 2017 by Filipino-Chinese businessman Wilfredo Keng, whose daughter was appointed to a government post by President Rodrigo Duterte.
The case stemmed from a Rappler article titled “CJ Using SUVs of Controversial Businessman” written by Santos in 2012, which claimed that former Chief Justice Renato Corona was using a sports utility vehicle found to be registered to Keng.
Ressa and human rights groups believe the administration was behind the cyber libel cases as the President has repeatedly assailed Rappler in response for its critical reporting, including its coverage of the government’s anti-narcotics campaign.
Andanar, a broadcast journalist himself prior to his appointment in the Palace, said Ressa has been accusing the administration of manipulation through the government’s propaganda machines to “escape from her legal obligations.”
The Palace official added Ressa “continues to enjoy her inherent right to express her beliefs and thoughts, whether they be verified or not.”
Andanar said the government’s commitment to promoting media protection is reflected in the poll by the Social Weather Stations’ conducted last year which showed that three out of five Filipinos believe that they can speak “openly and without fear” on different issues.
He also noted that the Philippines has maintained a satisfactory position in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Democracy Index at 54th rank in 2019.