Unless reversed by a higher court, the conviction for cyber libel of Rappler’s Maria Ressa and its former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. will further shrink not only the democratic space for free expression and press freedom but also the people’s right to be informed on matters relevant to their lives as citizens and as human beings.
A sovereign citizenry’s right and duty of monitoring and evaluating public issues and problems, and of commenting on them and proposing alternative approaches and solutions, are best served by a free press. But because their hold on power partly depends on being perceived as infallible, most governments including the Philippines’ own detest criticism, hence their antipathy to press freedom and free expression.
A 17th-century English writ that challenged a person to prove by what authority he holds a public office, a power or a franchise, a quo warranto plea has been used in this country for the second time in two years in an attempt to silence and penalize another Duterte-perceived critic.
As if to remind the Philippine press and media of the challenges they face during his troubling watch, President Rodrigo Duterte began the new year by urging the owners of ABS-CBN to sell the network. He had earlier threatened to make sure that the House of Representatives majority he controls doesn’t renew its franchise, which expires on March 30 this year. One of his accomplices in that House of ill-repute has in so many words assured him that they will do exactly that.
I am more than honored at being the recipient of the 2019 Titus Brandsma press freedom award. I am accepting it in behalf of the many journalists across the country who, despite physical attacks, death threats, censorship attempts, bans from coverage, whimsical libel suits, and red-baiting continue the necessary task of seeking the truth and reporting it. Most of all am I accepting it in memory of the 165 journalists and media workers who have been killed in this country since 1986 because of their work, among them the 32 killed in the 2009 Ampatuan massacre, the tenth anniversary of which will be on November 23. They deserve the honor more than I do: press freedom is best defended and enriched by journalists’ practicing it and refusing to be silent or silenced.