Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat (PHRCS) Undersecretary Severo Catura on Monday night cautioned against the politicization of human rights, particularly of press freedom, in relation to the cyber libel conviction of Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa.
During an online program “Biblia at Politika”, Catura said politicizing human rights could weaken societal structures and undermine the government’s efforts to uphold them contrary to critics claims that Ressa’s conviction is the latest blow to press freedom in the country.
“Press freedom was politicized by no less than Maria Ressa for whatever reason,” Catura said.
Ressa, he said, has “abused” her press freedom and was found guilty of cyber libel by a Philippine court.
He added that the complainant, businessman Wilfredo Keng, is a private individual and had his own basic human right to seek justice for Rappler’s supposed unfair news report.
Keng filed cyber libel charges against Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. in 2017 for naming him in a 2012 report as having lent his sports utility vehicle for the use of then Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was facing impeachment charges.
“While there is equal protection of the law, we should also understand that there is a special inclination towards the victim, the person who has been abused,” Catura said. “Hindi siya (Ressa) ang biktima (She is not the victim). Siya po ang nag-abuso ng kanyang (She abused her) press freedom and that abuse have resulted in her being sentenced by the courts.”
Catura said, under the concept of human rights, the principles of accountability, non-discrimination, transparency, and rule of law were met during the whole legal process.
“The whole process should be able to uplift the dignity of the person and empower the person. Si Mr. Keng, nabigyan ng karapatan na magfile ng kaso laban kay Maria Ressa (Mr. Keng was given the right to file a case against Maria Ressa),” he said. “He can claim that right para yung kanyang sarili ay pwede niyang maprotektahan at ng estado (so that he could protect himself through the state).”
Catura said press freedom is very much alive in the country, with a total of 495 newspapers, 436 broadcast networks, 411 AM stations, and 1,014 FM stations as of this date.
“We have really taken our human rights obligations very seriously, lalong lalo na ang (most especially) freedom of the press,” Catura said. “If there’s a manifestation of how we are able to translate yung ating pagrespeto sa karapatan na yan ng malayang pagpapahayag, makikita natin yun sa ating mga media establishments (our respect for freedom of the press, you could see it in our media establishments).”
In a ruling last week, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa convicted Ressa and Santos of cyber libel and sentenced them to a jail term ranging from six months and one day to six years. However, they are entitled to post bail and still appeal the case.
Opposition lawmakers, some media groups, and international organizations have slammed the conviction, describing it as an attack on press freedom.
Rappler, in a statement, claimed he guilty verdict as “a dangerous precedent not only for journalists but for everyone online”. (PNA)