As critics claim that Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa’s cyber libel conviction is the latest blow to press freedom in the country, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in an online interview with ABS-CBN News on June 17, 2020: “There is no suppression of the freedom of the press. It was a case of bad journalism.”
Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa convicted Ressa and former Rappler researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel and sentenced them to a jail term ranging from six months and one day to six years in a ruling released on June 15, 2020.
The integrity of the court’s decision should not be questioned, according to Roque. “You need to read the decision because the poor judge (Estacio-Montesa) cannot defend her decision. The decision speaks for itself. That is her defense. Maria Ressa did not lift a finger to prove the absence of malice despite the presumption of malice in law,” Roque said.
The cyber libel case was based on the 2017 complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng against Ressa and Santos. Keng complained when he was identified by a 2012 Rappler article linking him to former chief justice Renato Corona and other criminal acts.
Roque said Ressa’s lawyer failed to show proof that there was no malice in Rappler’s article.
“There was no fact-checking. It’s basic. Before you call a man criminal, make sure he’s criminal. Where is the conviction? Where is even the complaint? They did not even exert any effort. It’s natural that the court will convict them,” Roque said.