Human rights activist Frank Baraan IV condemns the recent conviction of Maria Ressa but he is not surprised by it. The Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 in Metro Manila, Philippines has found the Rappler founder and CEO and her former colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr. guilty of cyber libel.
“Maria Ressa’s conviction is greatly alarming, but it was not surprising,” Baraan said in a statement obtained by Conan Daily. “In fact, it only cements the fact that the current regime has been consistent with one thing: their political persecution and harassment of real or perceived enemies. And Maria Ressa is PERCEIVED as an enemy, because Rappler will not sugarcoat the atrocities, injustices, and abuses of the REGIME.”
Ressa and Santos were convicted on June 15, 2020, which marked the third month Metro Manila was put under community quarantine due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It was three days after the Philippines’ celebrated its 122nd Independence Day.
Those could be coincidences. But the fact that Ressa and Santos were convicted six days after the Anti-Terrorism Bill was officially transmitted to Rodrigo Duterte‘s office may not be coincidental.
Ressa is considered one of the staunchest critics of Duterte. So is the son of the Philippines’ former Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III.
On the other hand, there is Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) deputy administrator Esther Margaux “Mocha” Justiniano Uson who has been accused of sharing fake news on social media several times. On May 18, 2020, she went to the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Manila to respond to a subpoena the bureau sent her over a Facebook post she had posted that was tagged as fake news.
“What I used was a photo from The Philippine Star, a respected mainstream media (outfit), (a) broadsheet but a wrong photo was used,” the Philippine Star quoted Uson as saying in a video posted by Super Radyo dzBB. “It was a mistake. The photo was an honest mistake.”
Uson was summoned by the NBI because it received complaints over an alleged violation of Section 4 (c)(4) of Republic Act No. 10175 also known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. She has yet to be charged.
The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was approved in the Philippines on September 12, 2012. Ressa and Santos were accused of violating the same law.
Those who condemn the recent convictions of Ressa and Santos are worried about the message the Philippine government under Duterte’s administration is giving its citizens, that critics will be punished while supporters will be forgiven for any wrongdoing. But Frank is optimistic and he urges his fellow Filipinos to keep sharing their voices.
Found guilty of cyber libel, Ressa and Santos were sentenced to a minimum of six months and one day to a maximum of six years in jail over the charges filed by Filipino-Chinese businessman Wilfredo Keng. Each of the accused has to pay 400,000 pesos (US$8,000) in damages once the conviction becomes final.