President Rodrigo Duterte today said that Filipinos should not be afraid of the recently signed anti-terrorism law—then in the same breath accused multi-awarded journalist Maria Ressa of deception.
“For the law-abiding citizens of this country, I am addressing you with all sincerity. Do not be afraid if you are not a terrorist, if you are not planning to destroy the government, to blow up the church, to blow up the public utilities,” Duterte said in Filipino and English in a publicly broadcast speech that was aired early this morning.
Instead of allaying public fears, however, Duterte once again threatened to snuff out perceived enemies of the state.
“As they say: ‘Duterte kills here and there.’ That’s true. If you kill people, I will really kill you. You can bet on that on the grave of your father and mother,” the country’s chief executive said.
“If you do that to the people, if you kill them wantonly, then I will take it as a right to kill you,” he warned.
Filipinos have protested the bill’s passage on the streets and on social media, rejecting some of its provisions including the warrantless arrest and detainment of suspected terrorists for up to 24 days. Lawyers and human rights groups have also spoken out about the vague and broad definition of terrorism under the law, which they alleged will lead to an abuse of power.
Days after Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, at least one congressman and a lawyers’ group filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking to temporarily halt the implementation of the law because it was allegedly unconstitutional. The law is scheduled to take effect on July 15.
Ressa a ‘fraud’
It’s no secret that Duterte hasn’t been a fan of news website Rappler, which has written reports critical of his administration. But the president didn’t mince words about how he truly felt about the outlet’s chief executive officer.
“Ressa is a fraud, believe me. Give us time. Too early for you to enjoy your awards. You are a fraud, actually. We are just compiling at this stage, and someday in bold letters, we will show your incongruity,” Duterte said about the Princeton-educated veteran journalist.
Duterte, who supposedly believes that politicians should not be onion-skinned, also said that he “skips” reading articles on Ressa’s news site because it just portrays him in a bad light.
“I don’t read it. If It’s not good for me, I’m just wasting my time,” the president added.
Ressa, along with former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr., was convicted of cyberlibel on June 15 in connection with a 2012 report which alleged that businessman Wilfredo Keng loaned vehicles to the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was impeached for undeclared wealth. Keng has denied this allegation and filed a complaint against Ressa and Santos five years after the publication of the article.
The conviction was condemned in the country and overseas, with many saying that it was a blow on the Philippines’ free press. The case is on appeal while Ressa and Santos are out on bail.
Apart from the cyberlibel conviction, Ressa is facing a string of charges such as tax evasion. She believes that the charges against her are politically motivated because of Rappler’s critical coverage on the Duterte government.