Dangerous slope to authoritarian rule

Dangerous slope to authoritarian rule

We have heard the conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher- writer Rey Santos Jr. by Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa under the Cybercrime Law. This may simply be one case, but seen in the Philippine context in the last few months, this is scary. It is a slide to the dangerous slop of authoritarian rule!

The case itself is very dubious. I am no lawyer but I try to understand with common sense. How can Maria Ressa and Rey Santos be convicted of an article that was written on May 29, 2012 based on the Cybercrime Law that was passed only on September 12, 2012? If this is the jurisprudence now, then it is truly scary. Anybody of us can be convicted of anything we wrote in the past! Besides, the prescription period for filing a case against this article has already lapsed. Under the Revised Penal Code, as revised by Republic Act 4661, libel prescribes in one year, meaning you can only be sued for libel within a year of publication. Wilfredo Keng filed his complaint in 2017, or 5 years after the article was published in 2012. The Department of Justice (DOJ) used an obscure law—Republic Act 3326—as basis to extend libel’s prescription period from one year to 12 years.

Although Rappler was exonerated in this case, yet there is a series of cases (still seven cases!) filed against Rappler and its head Maria Ressa. This is outright persecution to bring down the institution because of its critical stance against the policies of this government. This persecution is done using the law, with its twisted and unjust applications, to give it a semblance of legality.

We have the closing down of ABS-CBN on May 4 when its franchise expired. It expired because Congress did not act on it. From the investigations done it is clear the loopholes are being sought to deny the franchise. To us ordinary people the end is clear: to harass ABS-CBN. Congress and the DOJ are just looking for laws how to do it “legally.”  At the time that people need information and encouragement because of the pandemic, a dominant voice of the media is threatened to be shut down.

The passing of the Terror Bill (I call it for what it is, because it is intended not to fight the terrorists but to terrorize any opposition) adds another push to this slippery slope. The main problem of the people now is not terrorism but lack of job, empty stomachs, health concerns because of COVID 19, but the ever-pliant Congress speedily passed the Terror Bill without appropriate discussions and consultations – because it is a priority bill. (by the way, priority to whom?) They did not even pass the Bayanihan II which is meant to address the economic plight of the people affected by the lockdown. When this bill becomes a law, the government can easily put critics to jail as it now easily tags them to be reds or terrorists.

These developments are very disconcerting, to say the least. We are being pushed to the slope of authoritarian rule – all using the semblance of law, which is not meant to serve the common good but to entrench the ruling power. Any voice of protest is being shut up. Independent thought is being muffled. And fear is being instilled in many. Will we allow it to happen?

“I’ve been the cautionary tale: be quiet or you’re next. It’s a chilling effect not just to me and to Rappler, but to journalists and to anyone who asks critical questions,” said Ressa.