In a press briefing, Spokesman Harry Roque claimed that President Rodrigo Duterte fully supports and values press freedom in the country.
“Naniniwala po siya sa malayang pananalita at ang paninindigan niya, ang taong gobyerno ay hindi dapat onion-skinned, hinaharap ang puna ng taumbayan lalo na kung ito ay nanggagaling sa media,” Roque said.
[The President believes in free speech, he maintains that public officials should not be onion-skinned and should face criticisms from the public, especially those coming from the media.]
Rappler’s chief executive officer and award-winning journalist Maria Ressa countered it with a rhetorical question:
“Do you believe that?”
Ressa and a former researcher of the news site was recently handed down a guilty verdict for cyber libel.
She pointed out that aside from Rappler, Duterte has repeatedly targeted several news giants in his four years in office because of their critical coverage of the government.
“Actions, actions speak louder than words. He has threatened journalists not just in words but in actions,” said Ressa.
“I have been a journalist for almost 35 years. I’ve worked in many different countries around the world. Yet, that time period I have never been called a criminal. Now, this government has done that and it is codified,” she added.
Calls to uphold and defend press freedom continued to mount in social media following the verdict.
Despite the somber situation in the media right now, she continued to appeal to media personnel to continue fighting for and protecting their rights.
“Don’t be afraid, because if you don’t use your rights, you will lose them,” Ressa told reporters.
“There’s a sword hanging over journalists’ heads,” she said, “and what I’d recommend, this is the lesson we’ve learned, is that you have to look at that sword, acknowledge that it’s meant to make you doubt yourself, it’s meant to make you not push as hard because there will be consequences…”
“What you need to do is back that away and look ahead and do the stories,” she added.
Rappler’s legal camp said it will file an appeal against the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46’s ruling, which sentenced both Ressa and Santos to up to six years in jail for violating the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.