A Catholic bishop has chided the cyber libel conviction of one of the country’s prominent journalists, reported CBCP News.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Manila archdiocese, called the guilty verdict on Rappler’s Maria Ressa and former researcher and writer Reynaldo Santos Jr as “persecution” of press freedom.
“This persecution is done using the law, with its twisted and upright applications, to give it a semblance of legality,” Pabillo said.
Although Rappler was exonerated in the case, the cyber libel is only one in a string of cases against the news agency and its head Ressa.
“This is outright persecution to bring down the institution because of its critical stance against the policies of this government,” he said.
While admitting that he is not a lawyer, the prelate said that common sense dictates that the case is “very dubious” because the article in question was published four months before the cybercrime law was enacted.
But the trial court sided with prosecutors who argued that the article was effectively republished in 2014 when Rappler made a spelling correction to one word.
“If this is the jurisprudence now, then it is truly scary,” Pabillo said.
Also citing the shut down of media giant ABS-CBN, the bishop warned that recent developments have placed the country on the “slope of authoritarian rule”.
“Any voice of protest is being shut up. Independent thought is being muffled. And fear is being instilled in many,” he added.
In a decision handed down on Monday, the court sentenced Ressa and Santos to pay P400,000 and face between six months and six years in prison. The two are out on bail while they appeal the ruling.