MANILA-- President Rodrigo Duterte supports a free press, Malacañang said Monday as it distanced the chief executive from the cyber libel conviction of one of his top critics, Rappler chief Maria Ressa.
Ressa on Monday was found guilty of cyber libel over a 2012 article that linked a businessman to alleged illegal activities. Former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. was also convicted in the case.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the Palace expected Duterte's critics to use Ressa's conviction against the chief executive. He said a private individual, not the Duterte administration, initiated the case.
"Naniniwala po siya sa malayang pag-iisip at pananalita at ang paninindigan niya ang taong gobyerno hindi dapat onion-skinned," Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
(The President believes in free thinking and speech. He believes that government workers should not be onion-skinned.)
"Suportado po ni Pangulong Duterte ang malayang pananalita at malayang pamamahayag," he said.
(The President supports free speech and a free press)
The President's support for freedom of the press can be proven when he backed Davao-based journalist Alexander Adonis over a libel charge and in pushing to decriminalize cyber libel, said Roque.
It can be recalled that Adonis' libel case was filed by late House Speaker Prospero Nograles, a political rival of Duterte during his time as Davao City mayor.
Ressa on Monday said the court's decision was meant to be a "cautionary tale" as she urged Filipinos to fight for their rights.
Rappler, which has published stories critical of the Duterte administration, has described cases and acts against it as an attack on press freedom.
"I appeal to you, the journalists in room, the Filipinos who are listening, to protect your rights. We’re meant to be a cautionary tale, we are meant to make you afraid. I appeal again, don’t be afraid," Ressa told reporters.
Roque said Ressa's claims had no basis. During his term as Davao City mayor, Duterte never filed a libel case against any journalist, he said.
Businessman Wilfredo Keng accused Rappler of smearing his reputation over a May 2012 article alleging that he allowed former Chief Justice Renato Corona to use an SUV. The same article cited an intelligence report alleging Keng had a shady past.
Rappler argued that the Anti-Cybercrime Law was approved months later, in September 2012. Keng denied the allegations and requested that the article be taken down, which the news website refused to do.