Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo on Monday expressed alarm over Rappler Executive Editor Maria Ressa’s cyber libel conviction, saying the weaponizing of law to silence the media and dissenters poses a threat to everyone’s freedoms.

Calling the guilty verdict givent to Ressa and former Rappler writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. a “chilling development,” Robredo warned the public that the ploy to silence and harass media sends a message to dissenters: “Keep quiet or you are next.”

“A threat to the freedom of even a single Filipino is a threat to all of our freedoms. If the law and our government institutions can be brought upon Ressa, then we should be wary of what this means to the freedoms of ordinary citizens,” Robredo said in a statement.

The vice president also underscored the importance of a free press amid the Covid-19 pandemic, not only for the delivery of accurate information but also “to uphold truth-telling and the courage to speak it as vital cornerstones of our democracy.”

“Despite this outcome, it is incumbent upon the press, and every free Filipino, to hold fast to our courage and not be cowed into silence. If anything, this must only firm up our resolve as we work towards a humane, truthful and law-abiding society,” Robredo added.

Manila Regional Trial Court 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio Montesa convicted Ressa and Santos of cyber libel Monday morning.

The complaint was filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng over a 2012 Rappler story written by Santos which accused Keng of having a “shady past,” due to his alleged criminal activity.

Keng, who denies being involved in crime, said prior to the guilty verdict that the case was about holding people accountable, and not curtailing press freedom.

“Ressa claims that my filing of the cyber libel case is a suppression of press freedom. That is only a convenient excuse she peddles to escape accountability. I am fighting for my rights and for accountability,” Keng said.

The court sentenced Ressa and Santos to six months and one day to up to six years in prison. They can appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. John Ezekiel J. Hirro