The Philippine Judges Association (PJA) on Monday said it was “saddened” by the vilification of the judiciary and expressed fear that the public might lose faith and respect in the country’s justice system, following the cyber libel conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.

“The PJA is saddened by how the judiciary is being dragged and vilified just because a decision was rendered in a manner not acceptable to the parties therein. The attacks on the judiciary are so vicious that they may lead to the public losing faith and respect in our judicial system,” PJA President Felix Reyes’ statement read.

Reyes said the Philippine judiciary had received “virulent attacks” from the public, including claims that the “rule of law in the Philippines is broken and democracy is under threat.”

The statement came a week after Ressa and former Rappler researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. were found guilty of cyber libel, causing public outcry and criticism of Manila Regional Trial Court 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio Montesa and the country’s justice system.

“Abusive criticisms and unfounded innuendoes hurled against courts and judges erode the public’s trust and confidence on the very institution tasked to protect the people’s rights,” Reyes said.

He reminded the public that “personal attacks, criticisms laden with political threats, those that misrepresent and distort the nature and context of judicial decisions, those that are misleading or without factual or legal basis and those that blame the judges for the ills of society damage the integrity of the judiciary and threaten the doctrine of judicial independence.”

Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, among many, said Ressa’s conviction was a threat to all Filipinos’ freedoms and a ploy to silence media and government dissenters.

Malacañang, however, said Ressa’s guilty charge was not a press freedom issue, but rather a case of bad journalism and bad lawyering. John Ezekiel J. Hirro