"What issue is at hand in the Ressa case?"
I have so many memorable events in my almost 70 years as a journalist.
One of these was when the Supreme Court cited me in contempt, not as a journalist but as a lawyer. I allegedly violated a rule not to come out with an unpromulgated decision of the High Court.
It all began when my wife and I attended a wedding reception of a close friend at the Manila Hotel.
One of the principal sponsors was Supreme Court Justice Abdulwahid Bidin, who was a friend and associate of my brother Desi. They were both justices of the Court of Appeals.
During the reception, I had the opportunity to talk to Bidin and ask him why there had been no decision yet on an urgent motion of the Department of Justice. The department was then headed by Secretary Franklin Drilon. The motion charged then-Senator Juan Ponce Enrile with rebellion with murder upon the instruction of President Corazon Aquino. This was in connection with the coup attempts of the Reform the Armed Forces movement. Enrile headed that group.
It was at that moment when Justice Bidin told me there was already a majority decision dismissing the charge against Enrile. The crime “rebellion with murder” was nonexistent because murder was already inherent in the crime of rebellion.
I asked Justice Bidin why the Court had not yet come out with the decision. He said that it was being delayed by a female lady justice identified with Mrs. Aquino.
In my mind, I was already thinking of a banner headline. It did become the headline the following day after I had cleared the story with my then-editor in chief, Cip Roxas.
Almost immediately, the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan tried to minimize my expose. I insisted that my source was credible.
This was followed by calls from the opposition—and, if I am not mistaken, by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Philippine Constitution Association—for the Court to immediately promulgate the decision.
My gulay, I was called by the Supreme Court to explain my expose and name my source. Otherwise, I would be cited for contempt.
I told the justices that my source was one of them. I asked for an executive session so that I could identify my source, But the justices did not agree to this. I insisted I made that expose in the pursuit of press freedom.
The next day, all newspapers came out with the headline that the Supreme Court has decided to cite me in contempt, not as a journalist but as a lawyer. I was told to pay P10,000 or go to jail. I refused to pay a single centavo because I did not believe in the decision.
I wrote that expose as a journalist, not as a lawyer!
I later found out that Justice Reynato Puno wrote a dissenting opinion where he said that as a journalist I enjoyed freedom of the press.
I also discovered that well-meaning friend paid my fine. I had wanted my lawyer, Tony Coronel, to seek a reconsideration, but he told me that the decision was already final and executory.
I have a copy of that decision and to this day, I cannot understand why I was cited in contempt.
My consolation was that my case became a question at the Bar exams.
* * *
The exercise of press freedom comes to fore in the many cases filed against Maria Ressa, chief executive officer of online news site Rappler.
In a little over a year, some 11 cases have been filed against Ressa and Rappler.
Ressa’s legal problems began in January last year when the Securities and Exchange Commission decided to revoke Rappler’s Certificate of Registration and Incorporation. It allegedly violated the constitutional restriction on the ownership of media entities by having American Omidyar Network in control of Rappler through Philippine Depository Receipts.
In all these cases, Ressa and Rappler have been blaming President Duterte for curtailing the freedom of the press just because Rappler has been critical of his war against drugs.
So is press freedom the issue here?
From the point of view of human rights advocates, press freedom is being suppressed.
But I cannot see how all the charges are connected to the violation of press freedom. After all, those cases are not in connection with anything published on Rappler.
Moreover, there is a real case of violation of ownership restrictions.
What Ressa, Rappler and their supporters are saying is plain baloney.
Just look at Ressa. She seems to be enjoying her notoriety.
The opposition also looks funny when they defend Ressa because hey really do not understand what freedom of the press is all about.
Some of my colleagues in media might say I am a Dutertard, but I don’t mind. All I am saying is that there are laws and we must live by them.