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Legazpi diocese backs Rappler’s fight

The Diocese of Legazpi has expressed it’s support to Rappler, an online social news network, for holding the line and standing for the truth after the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa convicted its chief executive officer Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Rey Santos, for the crime of cyber libel.

“We will hold the line,” Legazpi Bishop Joel “Bong” Z. Baylon said.

Fr. Rex Paul Arjona, Social Action Center (SAC) executive director also expressed his support for Rappler after the court handed down the guilty verdict against Ressa and Santos.

“One with you. This conviction and the slew of other cases weighing down on Rappler -- together with the closure of ABS-CBN and harassment of journalists doing independent and critical reporting -- is the Duterte regime sending a message, strong and clear, to the rest of media professionals in this country: cross us and you will end up just like them,” Arjona said.

Following the court’s decision, Arjona urged the Rappler management and its reporters not to be afraid and remain independent despite of the threats.

“But instead of cowering in fear and submission, our independent media should take this as a wake up call to band together, ally with kindred spirits across sectors to amplify their voice, and continue to speak truth to power. As official channels continue to gaslight citizens and paid trolls campaign to undermine mainstream media, more than ever our people need a free press to sift truth from lies and tell stories that matter,” Fr. Arjona said.

Jose Briones, retired government employee and a former Albay provincial tourism officer also expressed his support to Rappler’s fight for truth-telling though investigative reporting.

“The Duterte administration is inclined from the beginning to silence all those who oppose his leadership and mysteriously, those behind him are so devoted and loyal to his whims.

He is really a strong man with a charismatic aura unlike the others whom he got elected to the post with exemption to late Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr.,” Briones said.

Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman in a statement said that the conviction for Ressa and Santos is “a tragic commentary on the judiciary’s succumbing to the repressive campaign of the Executive.”

Lagman said Ressa “has been the victim of the Duterte administration’s vindictive prosecution for pursuing critical advocacy against what she perceives as flawed policies of the administration.”

“Now the cruel price of free speech and press freedom is impending incarceration,” Lagman said.

“Since cyber libel is libel defined under the Revised Penal Code (RPC) committed through a computer system, the prescription of cyber libel is one year as provided for in Article 90 of the RPC,” Lagman, a lawyer by profession, said in a statement issued June 15.

He said the purported cyber libel for which Ressa is charged with was allegedly published or committed in May 2012 but the case was filed in 2017 or only five years later. Verily, it has prescribed.

“What would be imprisoned with Ressa are critical reportage and legitimate dissent even as it would hold hostage press freedom,” the veteran Albay lawmaker and human rights lawyer said.

The court verdict came from an article written by Santos back in 2012, which claimed that businessman Wilfredo Keng lent his sports utility vehicle to then Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Santos’ investigative report on the late chief justice linking him to businessmen, including complainant Wilfredo Keng, was written in May 2012 before the Cyber Libel law was enacted in September 2012.

The 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.

It took about five years or in 2017, when Wilfredo King filed a cyber libel case against Rappler for a story done in 2012, when the Cyber Libel Law has not yet existed when Santos story was published.

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