PhilStar.com takedown of Keng story 'unfortunate' – NUJP

MANILA, Philippines – The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) tagged as "unfortunate" PhilStar.com's decision to take down its 2002 article on businessman Wilfredo Keng, saying it proves that government's "twisting the law" has a chilling effect on media.

The NUJP said Philstar.com's article takedown was an "inevitable consequence"of the government's "twisting the law in pursuit of its vindictive agenda to shut down Rappler and intimidate the Philippine media community into meekness."

"Though we find the decision unfortunate, we cannot fully fault Philstar.com for its decision after how the very agency supposed to ensure the 'effective and efficient administration of justice' has done the opposite to satisfy its principal's obsession to muzzle critical media," the group said in a statement Sunday, February 17.

PhilStar.com took down the news report about Keng after the businessman "raised the possibility of legal action." In the 2002 article, Keng was reported as the prime suspect eyed in the ambush-killing of former Manila councilor Chika Go.

This 2002 report was cited by Rappler in a story written by former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr in 2012. In the story, Keng was reported to have been accused of "smuggling fake cigarettes and granting special investors residence visas to Chinese nationals for a fee."

The 2012 Rappler story was eventually used by Keng to file a cyber libel case against Santos and Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa in 2017. The Cybercrime Prevention Act was enacted 4 months after the Rappler story was published. (READ: Despite NBI flip-flop, DOJ to indict Rappler for cyber libel)

PhilStar's actions come 3 days after Ressa was arrested on Wednesday, February 13, in connection with the cyber libel case filed by Keng. She posted a P100,000-bail the following day.

Philstar.com explains takedown

PhilStar.com said that laws were not supposed to be applied retroactively, but it was not clear if "any live digital element on the article page outside the 17-year-old article" could be used against the media outlet.

"The scope and bounds of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 are still unexplored and the takedown was seen as a prudent course of action," Philstar.com said. (READ: Maria Ressa arrest tests the bounds of Philippine cyber libel law)

In response, the NUJP urged PhilStar.com and the Star Group of Publications to remain steadfast in the legacy of Betty Go Belmonte, one if its founders, who fought for independent journalism.

"While we are saddened by the takedown, we urge our colleagues at Philstar.com and the Star Group of Publications to hold on to the legacy of Betty Go Belmonte, one of the brave few who put up publications critical of the Marcos dictatorship and helped spark the resurgence of independent journalism when it was dangerous to do so," the NUJP said.

The NUJP said Filipino journalists should resist "brazen attempts" to curtail press freedom.

"As history has proven, the independent Philippine media cannot be silenced for long. Tyrants may come and go, but the free press will outlast them," they said. 

Following her arrest, Ressa also appealed to citizens and journalists speak out against injustices committed by the government.

"The message that the government is sending is very clear... 'Be silent or you're next.' I'm saying and I'm appealing to you not to be silent, even if – and especially if – you're next," Ressa said,

"What we're seeing is death by a thousand cuts of our democracy," the Rappler CEO added. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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