Malacañang on Wednesday slammed Rappler Executive Editor Maria Ressa for “playing victim” by bringing up the franchise denial of ABS-CBN after pleading not guilty to one of five tax-related charges she faces.

“It is very evident that Maria Ressa is playing the victim card by talking about the non-renewal of the broadcast franchise of ABS-CBN after filing her ‘not guilty’ plea before a local court,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.

Following her arraignment at the Pasig Regional Trial Court, which was for alleged violation of Section 255 of the tax code, Ressa raised the ABS-CBN franchise issue, which she said was a threat to all journalists.

“What happened to ABS-CBN can happen to all of us. Journalists, we have to hold power to account even if power is consolidated…. We need to continue to demand accountability,” Ressa said in a press conference.

Roque, who had repeatedly denied President Rodrigo Duterte’s involvement in both Ressa’s recent cyber libel conviction and the ABS-CBN shutdown, declared anew that the government remained neutral on the TV network’s franchise issue.

“We reiterate that the granting of the broadcasting franchise is the sole and exclusive prerogative of Congress; and we have maintained a neutral stance on the issue as part of our courtesy and respect to a separate co-equal branch of the government,” he said.

Roque claimed that the fact that two of the news entities Duterte had lambasted in the past — Rappler and ABS-CBN — have continued operations was proof that Ressa’s allegations were false.

“A good case in point is the ABS-CBN News coverage of the “not guilty” plea of Maria Ressa, which can be read online. There is certainly no truth to Ms. Ressa’s allegation,” he said.

“The press can keep on reporting as long as there is no violation and has the right to continue its operations,” Roque said. John Ezekiel J. Hirro