AHRC Statement on the Conviction of Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos, Jr.
November 26, 2020

A Call for Vigilance

Recently, our country has faced numerous issues requiring the application and interpretation of our Constitution and laws, notably, the passage of the Anti-Terror Bill by Congress, the lapse and the on-going hearing of the ABS-CBN franchise, and now, the guilty verdict handed down by the Manila Regional Trial Court in the cyber libel case against Rappler Chief Executive Officer and Executive Editor Maria Ressa and former Rappler Researcher and Reporter Reynaldo Santos, Jr.  

We consider the guilty verdict as an affront to our fundamental human rights as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, specifically our right to information and freedom of the press. This is a clear manifestation of media repression which blatantly disables the press to fulfill its very function to be the society’s watchdog against government abuse, corruptions and malpractices. Ressa’s case along with the cease and desist order against media giant ABS-CBN, the massive media killings, and the potential threats of the anti-terror bill to our basic human rights, among others are a reflection of the current state of the nation: a chaotic society that does not value Constitutional rights. And we refuse to be in that state. 

But Ms. Ressa and Mr. Santos’ guilty verdict is not yet final. There are avenues to review this and we remain steadfast in our belief that we must all work together for the strengthening of institutions which could not be swayed by any political power that may be. We note with concern not only the climate within which this case developed, but also the deviation from Supreme Court guidelines regarding the preference of fines instead of imprisonment1 which is an indirect recognition of the need to revisit the decriminalization of our libel laws. The ruling of the Regional Trial Court may be appealed and we will watch closely as the case progresses. 

We urge everyone to remain vigilant. We call on all to keep in mind the context and environment within which this case advanced. As events such as this develop and unfold, we must further our resolve to be engaged, especially on issues affecting our country and our fellow Filipinos, even as our sources of information are being challenged every day. For when the law is weaponized, is it not our duty to speak out against it? We have a moral obligation to call out against forces that destroy the democratic institutions painstakingly built by those who came before us. It is our sworn duty to uphold and defend the Constitution and so we should, by all means, ‘hold the line’ to remain true to this promise. 

Seek out the truth. Be informed. Be involved. Speak out. Let us not allow our voices to be stifled. It is only when all of us are part of the discussion can we say that we live in a free, inclusive, and democratic country.

We reaffirm our stand that freedom of the press is fundamental because it serves as the foundation from which we exercise our other rights. Especially now as our country navigates through this pandemic, it is crucial for the press to keep on reporting and provide relevant,

accurate, and timely information both to update the public on what is happening and to empower the people to make informed decisions and voice out their opinions on a particular policy, action, event, or situation. 

For human rights and the rule of law, we remain. 

#DefendPressFreedom #HoldtheLine

 1 Administrative Circular No. 08-2008