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Bato: Dragging Duterte administration into Ressa conviction 'foul'

Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa on Monday dismissed claims that the Duterte administration orchestrated the conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa for cyber libel.

"That is purely an independent decision handed down by a judicial court that originated from a complaint filed by a private individual so it is so foul on the part of the critics to keep on dragging the Duterte administration into this issue," Dela Rosa said in a message to reporters.

Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. were sentenced  to six months and one day to up to six years in jail after being judged guilty of cyber libel over an article linking businessman and private complainant Wilfredo Keng to human trafficking and drug smuggling. Both of them were able to post bail.

Several rights groups condemned the conviction and consider it as an assault against media freedom. Human Rights Watch said the attacks against Rappler is "widely seen as retaliation for the website’s critical reporting on Duterte’s war on drugs."

The former Philippine National Police chief who handled the pilot years of Duterte's campaign against illegal drugs, however, expressed unbelief in the alleged link.

“Attack on press freedom? Tell it to the marines!” Dela Rosa said.

Earlier, several minority senators said the law is being weaponized to silence journalists who are critical of the administration.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, said the ruling of the regional trial court can still be appealed in higher courts.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the critics of the administration will likely use Ressa's conviction for cyber libel to portray President Rodrigo Duterte as an enemy of press freedom.

"Ang paninindigan ng ating Pangulo ay ito po ay isang kaso na nalitis ng ating hukuman. Respetuhin natin ang desisyon ng hukuman," Roque said.

"Meron pa naman pong pagkakataon si Maria Ressa na umapela. Habang po siya ay umaapela, hindi naman po siya makukulong. We wish her the best," he added.—AOL, GMA News