Free press judicial harassment continues in post-Duterte Philippines

By Federico Segarra

Manila, Jul 20 (EFE).- The harassment of press freedom continues in the Philippines after the departure of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The coming to power of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has not prevented the justice system and authorities from continuing to harass Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa and her Rappler digital media outlet.

One day after Marcos Jr. was sworn in as Philippine president on Jun. 30, the Securities Market Commission ordered the closure of the influential Rappler outlet, founded and directed by Ressa, who also saw her conviction for cyber-defamation ratified this month by a Philippine court.

Analysts said the judicial decision on Rappler, pending a new appeal, is the latest action against the free press of the six years of Duterte’s administration, marked by tireless attacks on journalists and independent media.

“The law has been used as a weapon against press freedom for six years,” Lian Buan, Rappler’s court editor at the offices of the digital medium in Manila, told EFE.

The journalist, banned by Duterte from attending his press conferences, said the political persecution of critical media is beyond doubt.

“It does not only affect Rappler, many journalists at the local level are being denounced for cyber defamation and persecuted even with violence, but their names are not as big as Maria Ressa’s,” she said.

Marcos Jr. has always avoided questions from the independent media and his father, dictator Ferdinand Marcos, brutally silenced the press and murdered more than 3,000 people in the 1970s – some of them journalists – so his coming to power arouses misgivings in the journalistic community.

The use of the law against critical opinions in recent years in the Philippines has particularly inflamed Rappler, who has eight open cases pending trial, seven of which directly affect Maria Ressa, who faces more than 100 years in prison if she is found guilty.

Ressa’s digital media, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 together with the Russian Dmitri Muratov for his defense of press freedom, was key in revealing to the world the extrajudicial killings of the “war on drugs” instigated by Duterte .

This campaign to “massacre” drug addicts has left between 27,000 and 30,000 dead, according to Amnesty International, and is being investigated by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

After these investigations and for raising their voices against Duterte’s authoritarian turn, Rappler journalists were banned from the president’s press conferences and began to suffer intense harassment from online trolls, while the judicial persecution against Ressa intensified.

However, the harassment of free information in recent years has not been limited to Rappler. In 2020, authorities denied the renewal of the franchise to the largest media conglomerate in the Philippines, ABS-CBN, also closed by Marcos Sr. during Martial Law in 1972. It has now had to reinvent itself as a digital medium.

Days before the end of Duterte’s term, the government ordered the closure of several progressive independent media, including the popular Pinoy Weekly or Bulatlat, accused of collusion with the communist insurgency and of being a danger to “national security.”

The closure was already carried out with the new administration in charge, so critics fear the deterioration of press freedom in the country will continue during the Government of Marcos Jr.

Reporters Without Borders ranked the Philippines 147th out of 181 in its report on press freedom in 2022, dropping as much as six places in the ranking since Duterte came to power in 2016. EFE


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