Philippine Government Steps Up Attacks Against Journalist Maria Ressa

The Philippine government has presented in recent weeks 14 new complaints for cyber defamation against the independent media outlet Rappler of the journalist and Nobel Prize winner Maria Ressa, denounced the international coalition Hold the Line.

Made up of more than 80 groups led by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the coalition denounced that before the presidential elections on May 9, the Philippine state has intensified its attacks against Ressa and the media outlet it directs.

“The blatant attempts by the State to suppress the verification services of facts related to the elections are an unacceptable attempt to deprive the public of their right to accurate informationfundamental during the elections,” the steering committee said in a statement.

Hold the Line reported that 14 new cyber defamation complaints have been filed against Rappler in recent weeks, which point to several journalists and their sources related to Reports on Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, close to President Rodrigo Duterte and who is on the FBI’s most wanted list, as well as eight of his followers.

According to the statement, Quiboloy and his partners were charged with conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking, fraud and coercion, child sex trafficking, marriage fraud, visa fraud and misuse, and money laundering.

“Quiboloy’s company, Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI), which has attacked independent journalists and media outlets reporting critically on the Duterte administration, recently received a television license from the government”, affirms Hold the Line.

Maria Ressa is among the 17 reporters, editors, executives and seven media outlets who have been sued for cyber defamation by Duterte’s Cabinet Minister and Secretary of Energy, Alfonso Cusi.

The official alleges that Ressa and the other journalists “They publicly accused him of corruption” reporting on a lawsuit filed against him and a businessman. Cusi demands that each defendant pay him 200 million Philippine pesos (almost 4 million dollars) for damages.

The coalition warned that if the authorities decide to open a trial for these cases, criminal charges would carry potentially harsh jail sentenceswhich would be added to the conviction for defamation -which is under appeal- already issued against Ressa.

Furthermore, after the Attorney General’s Office asked the Supreme Court of the Philippines to annul Rappler’s fact-checking agreement with the Election Commissionwhich sought to counter misinformation associated with the presidential elections, the cooperation was temporarily halted, just over a month before the elections.

“This dramatic escalation in the legal harassment of Maria Ressa and Rappler highlights the urgent need for the Philippines to decriminalize defamation and remove laws that are repeatedly abused to prosecute journalists whose reporting exposes public wrongdoing,” the steering committee of the coalition.

It also demanded that Rappler be allowed to engage in the “essential public service of exposing falsehoods, particularly during the election period, even when they are politically damaging to those in power.”

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Philippine Government Steps Up Attacks Against Journalist Maria Ressa