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Ressa, Santos conviction hit

Court’s decision over Ressa ‘unjust, uncomprehending, and unconstitutional’ – anti-disinformation network

By Lora Domingo

The Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation slammed the court ruling on the cyber libel charges over Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr., calling it as “unjust, uncomprehending and unconstitutional.”

In a statement, the consortium explained that the court decision failed the freedom enshrined on the highest law of the land.

“Presiding Judge Rainelda Estacio Montesa of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 has failed the Constitution, the rule of law, and the country’s long and proud tradition of defending the freedom of the press,” they said. 

To give a brief background, the cyber libel charges over Ressa and Santos were filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng over an article that allegedly linked him to former Chief Justice Renato Corona, published in May 2012.

‘Emphasizing’ only ‘the responsibilities of the press’

Judge Estacio-Montesa sought to justify her decision as a balance between the freedom of the press and the accountability of the press: “The right to free speech and freedom of the press cannot and should not be used as a shield against accountability,” The consortium, however, believed that Judge Estacio-Montesa chose only passages that “emphasized the responsibilities of the press – not the fundamental importance of a free press in the functioning of a democratic society.”

They also believed that Judge Estacio-Montesa’s ruling over the news organization on ‘flimsy grounds’ and ‘extending the coverage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act backward’ putting social media users in peril. 

The Cybercrime Prevention Act, despite becoming a law in September 2012, four months after the article was published, was applied to the Rappler story in question on the grounds that the “update” had been made to the article on February 2014 and is considered by the court as a republication of the article.

“Deliberately or inadvertently, she sounded like she was arguing that the court was the gatekeeper of journalistic standards.” the consortium explained.

‘Failed to see how journalism works’

Moreover, the consortium pointed out that the decision reflects Judge Estacio-Montesa’s unfamiliarity in journalism practices. 

“The decision was uncomprehending, because the language of the decision proved that the court failed to understand how journalism works and what its role in a democratic setting is. Of the many micro-aggressions against the institution of the free press visible in the ruling, let this example suffice,” they said. 

The court had considered Rappler’s usage of the term “executive editor” instead of “editor-in-chief” as a “clever ruse to avoid liability of the officers of the news organization.” 

Nonetheless, the consortium clarified that this is rather commonplace, as ‘many newspapers such as New York Times, the Washington Post and the Philippine Daily Inquirer call their top editors “executive editor.” They stated that Judge Estacio-Montesa declaring the use of this term as a “clever ruse” showed her “apparent unfamiliarity” with journalism.

‘Reasoning based on falsehood’

While Rappler had testified that the update was a mere correction of the misspelling of the word “evasion”, Judge Estacio-Montesa dismissed this testimony because “the original article published on 29 May 2012 can no longer be found. Only the 19 February 2014 version presently exists and [is] accessible on the internet.” 

They refuted this reasoning to be “based on falsehood,” stating that the original article can be found through resources such as Internet Archive Wayback machine which could be used by anyone, including Judge Estacio-Montesa.

“Despite quoting the great Nelson Mandela, Judge Estacio Montesa through her decision has set us back on our own long walk to freedom.” the consortium stated. [P]

Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

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