Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque didn’t hesitate to defend the decision of the court against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and to a former researcher during an interview with ABS-CBN journalist Karen Davila.
Davila is one of the journalist who questioned the decision against Ressa.
“What a sad day for democracy. #IStandWithMariaRessa,” Davila said.
During the interview, Davila questioned why Roque who’s also a former columnist of Rappler wrote an article in 2012 against cybercrime law.
As a response to Davila, Roque said that President Duterte has a history of opposing libel in the Philippines.
“The President has never filed any libel case in his almost 40 years of career as a politician, which means he does not believe in the use of libel in suppressing freedom of expression,” Roque said.
Roque reiterated that the issue should not be connected to the freedom of the press.
“There is no suppression of freedom of the press. It was a case of bad journalism. It was a case of bad lawyering.” Roque said.
The spokesperson also reminded Davila that as a journalist she must be aware of the libel laws in the country.
“You are a journalist, Karen, we studied in the same school, and we all know how libel laws operate in the Philippines. If the complainant is a private individual, there is malice in law. There is a legal presumption that the malicious imputation is in fact malicious. And by way of defense, we have to show that there is no malice. How? By showing either step taken to verify the truth,” Roque said.
“There was no fact-checking, it’s basic. Before you call someone criminal, make sure they are criminals. Where is the conviction? Where is even the complaint? You know what I’m saying. After all, that’s the very definition of what libel is – Imputation of a crime – why wasn’t that vetted,” he added.
Roque and Davila are both products of the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
In another interview, Roque already said that people should be careful about whom to libel as ‘criminal’ especially if the person they referring to is a private individual.
“Alam ng peryodista na kapag hindi ka gumawa ng hakbang para siguraduhin ang katotohanan ng sinusulat mo, talagang magkakaroon ka ng pananagutan lalo na kung ang sinabi mong kriminal na subject ng iyong artikulo ay isang pribadong indibidwal… It was bad journalism, it was bad legal defense.” Roque said.
On June 15, businessman Wilfredo Keng won his cyber libel charges against Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr.
The decision of the court was questioned by groups, politicians, and the international community.
Even Vice President Leni Robredo expressed concern about the decision against Ressa.
“Ang banta sa kalayaan ng isa ay banta sa kalayaan ng lahat. Kung mababaluktot ang batas at mga institusyon ng gobyerno upang idiin ang isang Maria Ressa, ano pa kaya ang ibig sabihin nito para sa mga kalayaan ng ordinaryong mamamayan?” Robredo said.