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UP, Ateneo communications professors blast Maria Ressa conviction

Professors from the communications departments of the University of the Philippines (UP) and Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) on Monday slammed the conviction of news website Rappler’s chief and its former researcher-writer over cyber libel charges.

The UP College of Mass Communication branded the Manila court’s conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. a “bladed weapon” not only against journalists but also against all those who use the internet.

The UP educators also decried Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa’s “elimination” of the one-year prescriptive period of libel by creating a “new, strange abomination” called the theory of “continuing publication.”

“It is a concept of eternal threat of punishment without any limit in time and cyberspace,” they said in a statement. 

“This is not a threat to media alone. More important, it is a bladed weapon poised to cut and bleed out any journalist, any writer, or any Filipino social media user, who posts criticisms of public acts of corruption and incompetence on the internet,” they added.

Meanwhile, the faculty of the ADMU Departments of Communication and Political Science said the conviction was the Duterte administration’s “latest attempt to dismantle the checks and balances of a democratic society.” 

“The verdict is part of a long-standing, concerted effort to go after the administration’s most ardent and public critics. This sends a chilling message to all our citizens: the Duterte administration offers no safe harbor for those who criticize it,” they said.

ADMU professors also pointed out the administration’s “obvious aversion to women who have shown the courage to defend our democratic institutions” like Ressa and lamented the government’s use of its efforts and resources to target groups and institutions rather than address the coronavirus pandemic, citing closure of broadcast network ABS-CBN.

“It seems to us that the current administration is most animated and proactive when looking for ways to intimidate and silence critics while it seems so inept and reactive when Filipinos demand efficient, and pro-people solutions to the current pandemic crisis,” they said.

Ressa and Santos were convicted of cyber libel charges on Monday morning over a 2012 article on business Wilfredo Keng, which was published months before the Cybercrime Prevention Act was signed into law.

Several groups and individuals have condemned the ruling, with Ressa calling the conviction a “pivotal moment” for democracy and free press in the Philippines. -NB, GMA News