Ressa ‘failed to defend herself,’ Locsin tells US
MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Monday allays concerns of the United States over the cyber libel conviction of Maria Ressa, saying the veteran journalist had “failed to defend herself” that led to the court’s adverse ruling.
The US, through its State Department, earlier said it was “concerned” over the guilty verdict handed down by a Manila court against the Rappler boss, and her former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr.
“After her conviction in the lower court, she should appeal immediately to the upper court and not appeal to social media and the like-minded there because this is a matter of law,” Locsin said in an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel on Monday.
“They’re (US) concerned by the verdict but we have to explain to them and I think I adequately explained to them that she failed to defend herself,” the foreign affairs chief, himself a former journalist, added.
The US in its statement also called for the “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.”
Locsin gave assurance that the two allied countries remained committed to the rule of law.
“The United States and the Philippines are united and stand by each other in this that the rule of law must prevail,” Locsin said.
On June 15, the Manila RTC Branch 46 convicted Ressa and Santos of cyber libel over a case involving businessman Wilfredo Keng.
The subject of the cyber libel case was a 2012 article written by Santos claiming that Keng lent his sports utility vehicle to then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The same article also cited an intelligence report that said Keng had been under surveillance by the National Security Council for alleged involvement in human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Keng filed the cyber libel complaint in 2017 or five years after the article was first posted and three years after it was supposedly re-posted due to typographical error.
Following Ressa and Santos’ guilty verdict, opposition senators and journalist organizations slammed the conviction, with some saying that it sends a “chilling message” against critics of the Duterte administration.
Meanwhile, Keng said the conviction of Ressa and Santos vindicated him “at least, to the extent possible considering that the damage had already been done.”
“Even today, when the truth should have set me free, Rappler’s lies still resound after the bang of the gavel has faded away,” he said in a statement.
But Rappler said the Manila court’s decision “sets a dangerous precedent not only for journalists but for everyone online.”
“The decision today marks not the rule of law, but the rule of law twisted to suit the interests of those in power who connive to satisfy their mutually beneficial personal and political agenda,” the media company said in a statement.
“Today marks diminished freedom and more threats to democratic rights supposedly guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution, especially in the context of a looming anti-terrorism law,” it added.
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