MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte continues to value the freedom of the press and freedom of speech in the Philippines, Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar said on Wednesday.

Andanar gave the assurance, as he ensured that press freedom and freedom of speech remain “vibrant and strong” in the country.

“We would like to reiterate that the freedom of the press and freedom of speech continue to remain vibrant and strong in the Philippines,” he said in a press statement.

Andanar issued the statement to dispute critics’ claim that the cyber libel conviction of Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa and former research-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. was a “suppression of media freedom.”

Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa on Monday convicted Ressa and Santos of cyber libel and sentenced them to imprisonment ranging from six months and one day to six years.

Andanar viewed the court’s ruling as “independent and impartial decision.”

“In reality, it is a case of accountability,” he said, referring to the case of Ressa and Santos.

In 2017, businessman Wilfred Keng filed a cyber libel suit against Ressa and Santos after Rappler published an article on May 29, 2012, accusing the former of lending his sports utility vehicle to then Chief Justice Renato Corona who at that time was facing an impeachment case.

No cause for concern

The United States (US) State Department, in a statement issued on Tuesday, raised worry over the guilty verdict against Ressa and Santos.

It also urged the Philippines to resolve Ressa and Santos’ case.

“The United States is concerned by the trial court’s verdict against journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos and calls for resolution of the case in a way that reinforces the US and the Philippines’ long shared commitment to freedom of expression, including members of the press,” the US State Department said.

Andanar told the US that the conviction of Ressa and Santos should not be a “cause for concern.”

He ensured that the Duterte government has constantly been one with the US and the international community towards upholding and valuing the long-shared commitment to freedoms of the press and of speech.

He added that the current administration is “deeply conscious” that having a plurality of voices, including critical ones, is “an essential requirement for the continued functioning of any democratic country.”

“One must not forget that these apparent exercisable rights and freedoms come with obligations and responsibilities, and also with due regard to other people’s rights and freedoms,” Andanar said. (PNA)