Freedom of the press remains vibrant and strong in PH – Andanar

Published June 17, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Genalyn Kabiling

Freedom of speech and of the press remain “vibrant and strong” in the Philippines but such rights come with responsibilities, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said Wednesday after the United States expressed concern about the cyber libel conviction of a journalist.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar (ALBERT ALCAIN/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar

In a statement, Andanar said the Philippine government continues to value media freedom just like the United States and other members of the international community.

The conviction of Rappler head Maria Ressa, however, is about accountability, not suppression of press freedom, according to Andanar.

“The freedom of the press and freedom of speech continue to remain vibrant and strong in the Philippines despite how some people choose to paint the independent and impartial decision of the court on the cyber libel case against Ms. Maria Ressa and Mr. Reynaldo Santos Jr. as a suppression of media freedom, when in reality, it is a case of accountability,” he said.

“The Duterte Administration has constantly been one with the United States and the international community towards upholding and valuing our long shared commitment to freedoms of the press and of speech, deeply conscious that having a plurality of voices — including critical ones — is an essential requirement for the continued functioning of any democratic country,” he said.

He said there should be “no cause for concern” that the government is acting contrary to these democratic ideals. “However, one must not forget that these apparent exercisable rights and freedoms come with obligations and responsibilities, and also with due regard to other people’s rights and freedoms,” he added.

The US State Department recently issued a statement voicing concern on the conviction of Ressa for cyber libel.

A Manila court sentenced Ressa and former writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. to up to six years in prison for violating the country’s cyber law. The court verdict stemmed from a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng against an alleged defamatory Rappler article.

“The United States is concerned by the trial court’s verdict against journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos and calls for resolution of the case in a way that reinforces the U.S. and Philippines’ long shared commitment to freedom of expression, including for members of the press,” US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement posted on the department website.

Early in the day, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque lamented the alleged US interference in domestic affairs. He said the latest US State Department statement on the case of Ressa was not helping the relations between the two nations.

“These criticisms are not helping with the friendship with the Philippines and America. The President might think such interference is a judgment that our justice system cannot be trusted. The President will not accept that,” he said in Filipino during a radio interview.

“Our justice system is working,” Roque insisted.