The European Parliament, which said it was “alarmed over the deteriorating level of press freedom in the Philippines,” has urged the Duterte government to drop all of its charges against Rappler founder Maria Ressa and grant a new franchise to the now-shuttered broadcasting company ABS-CBN.
In a resolution dated Sept. 16, the parliament said that it wants all “politically motivated charges against her (Ressa) and her colleagues to be dropped” and asked its representatives in Manila to “closely monitor the cases against Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr. and to provide all necessary assistance” to them.
Ressa and Santos, Rappler’s former reporter, were convicted of cyber libel in June in connection with a May 2012 article involving businessman Wilfredo Keng. The article said that Keng loaned vehicles to the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona and that the businessman is involved in fake cigarette smuggling and in granting special visas to Chinese nationals in exchange for a fee.
While Keng sued the journalists as a private individual, Ressa claimed the charge was politically motivated due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s vocal criticism of Rappler, which he once described as a “fake news” outlet. Ressa and Rappler are facing a slew of other charges, including tax evasion.
ABS-CBN was shut down in July after the once-powerful media company failed to secure a new 25-year broadcasting license from Congress. Duterte has said multiple times that he would block any efforts to renew the franchise, alleging that ABS-CBN ran stories that painted his government in a negative light.
The Parliament also urged the Philippine government to conduct “impartial, transparent, independent and meaningful investigations into all extrajudicial killings, including the deaths of Jory Porquia, Randall ‘Randy’ Echanis and Zara Alvarez, as well as into other alleged violations.”
Echanis, an activist, was stabbed to death in his own home by suspected government operatives in August. Alvarez, a health worker, was shot dead in Bacolod City a few days later. Porquia, who was also an activist, was shot dead in his Iloilo City home in April.
In addition, the Parliament also asked the Duterte government to drop all charges against jailed Senator Leila de Lima, “to release her while she awaits trial, to allow her to freely exercise her rights and duties as an elected representative, and to provide her with adequate security and sanitary conditions while in detention.”
De Lima, a vocal Duterte critic, has been in jail since February 2017 after she was accused by the Philippine government of extorting money from jailed drug convicts back when she was secretary of the Justice Department. The money, the government claimed, was used by De Lima to fund her senatorial campaign in 2016.
The senator has been in solitary confinement in Camp Crame since April, supposedly to protect her from COVID-19. However, some of her colleagues have said that her incommunicado detention was illegal and unconstitutional.