By Roy Mabasa
The conviction of journalist Maria Ressa and researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. for cyber libel by a Manila regional trial court “marks a new low in the Philippines’ protection of the freedom of expression and in the ability of the Philippine media to function in the country,” United Nations Special rapporteur David Kaye said in a statement on June 16.
Kaye, who is the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, also condemned the decision rendered by Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montessa, saying it is now the responsibility of higher courts in the country to “reverse the verdict.”
“The law used to convict Ms. Ressa and the journalist who authored the article which led to their prosecution is plainly inconsistent with the Philippines’ obligation under international law. I urge the higher courts to reverse this conviction and correct this injustice,” the UN special rapporteur said.
Kaye noted that Ressa has been “targeted for years by the government, adding that the conviction “should be seen in the light of the attacks on her, her journalism, and on her media outlet, Rappler.com.”
At the same time, he called on the Philippine government to recognize the long-overdue reform needed in its laws on defamation and cyber libel.
“As the UN has noted repeatedly, offline rights apply just as equally online, and the Cybercrime Prevention Act fails to recognize the fundamental principle of contemporary human rights law,” Kaye said in reference to Republic Act 10175 which was passed during the 15th Congress of the Philippines.