By Daniel Llanto

Member-states of the European Parliament asked President Duterte to drop what they called campaign of legal harassment against on-line news group Rappler, its CEO Maria Ressa and researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos.

In a letter to Duterte, the EU members said they are “concerned that Ressa’s conviction on cyber libel charges sends a strong message to journalists that critical reporting risks imprisonment” in the Philippines.

The first time the European Parliament rebuked the Duterte administration came as a resolution expressing concern on the high number of killings linked to the bloody campaign against illegal drugs. It subsequently issued a resolution calling on the Philippine government to release Sen. Leila de Lima, who was detained for drug-related charges.

They claimed the case against the senator was “politically motivated” and called on the government to “end any further acts of harassment against her.”

The Palace hit the regional bloc’s resolutions and called them an “interference” with the affairs of the Philippines.

Duterte then labeled the 28-country European Union — the Philippines’ second most important trading partner — “stupid” and warned he would not stay silent in the face of Western condemnation of his anti-crime crackdown.

The legislative body of the European Union stated that the “conviction is part of an orchestrated campaign of legal harassment against Maria Ressa and Rappler.”

“We are worried her arrest shows that the law in the Philippines is used against journalists perceived as being critical of the authorities,” they added.

The regional bloc called on Duterte to “drop all charges against Ressa and Santos, not to oppose the appeal of her conviction in the cyber libel case and guarantee a free and independent press in the country.”

Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa convicted Ressa and Santos on Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 or cyber libel. The court sentenced Ressa and Santos to an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment ranging from a minimum six months and one day to six years of prision correccional as maximum.

Ressa and Santos are currently out on post-conviction bail, as they appeal the guilty verdict of the court.

The case was based on a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng over an article published in May 2012, roughly four months before the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was instituted. Laws like this cannot be applied retroactively.

The Justice department found probable cause to bring Ressa and Santos to court, asserting that the updated article fall under re-publication and puts it under the anti-cybercrime law — a theory that Ressa’s legal team challenges in their appeal.

Job-generating foreign direct investments from EU to Philippines stood at $250 million in the first quarter this year, up 437.9 percent year-on-year from $46.5 billion recorded in the same period in 2019. 

The European Union provided millions of euros to the Philippines to fight poverty and counter-terrorism in Southern Philippines. There are more than 30,000 Europeans living in the Philippines.

Duterte last year turned down an invitation to an Asia-Europe summit in Brussels as he lashed out at the EU and accused the bloc of insulting him over his deadly war on drugs.  Duterte hit out after saying European Council President Donald Tusk had invited him to the biennial Asia-Europe meeting in October.

Europe has been vocal in its criticism of Duterte’s hallmark policy, which has left nearly 4,000 drug suspects dead and seen human rights groups claim he was responsible for a crime against humanity.