MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Wednesday, December 12, reiterated that press freedom in the Philippines continued to be "robust" after Time Magazine named Rappler CEO Maria Ressa as among the journalists and media groups it collectively named "2018 Person of the Year."
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in response to questions in a Palace news briefing that the continued publication of reports critical of the Duterte administration should dispel notions that the government does not tolerate dissent.
"Obviously, since there are still critics attacking the administration, criticizing the administration, the freedom of expression in this country is a robust one," he said, when asked to describe the state of press freedom in the country now.
Apparently referring to the legal cases filed against Rappler and Ressa, Panelo said these are not attacks on press freedom as the cases supposedly have nothing to do with content Rappler publishes.
"Those who have been charged are in connection, not with their freedom of expression, but for commission of crimes which the courts have found probable cause, that's precisley why they are being tried," said Panelo
Yet press freedom advocates have pointed out that governments often resort to the filing of cases related to the business operations of media organizations they consider a threat, in order to justify crackdowns on journalists often protected by freedom of expression laws. (READ: [OPINION] A new weapon against press freedom)
Duterte has publicly called Rappler a source of "fake news" and banned its reporters from covering all of his events and from entering Malacañang.
He had also repeatedly threatened to block the franchise renewal of television network ABS-CBN and accused the Philippine Daily Inquirer of biased reporting while hurling allegations about the newspaper's owners.
Asked to comment on the recognition given to Ressa by TIME, Panelo said, "With respect to the awardee Ressa, that's the call of the awarding organization. It has its basis for awarding certain people. Certainly we cannot intrude into that."
Asked if Malacañang agrees with the recognition, President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman said, "Whether we agree or not it doesn't matter. That's the award of a particular organization."
Ressa is facing 5 tax evasion cases, apart from complaints filed before the Department of Justice – one for alleged violation of the Anti-Dummy Law, and another for cyberlibel.
These moves have been slammed by various media and human rights groups as harassment stemming from Rappler's critical reportage on the Duterte administration. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.