Palace spokesman Harry Roque released a personal statement on the conviction of Rappler Executive Editor Maria Ressa and her former staff for cyber libel, saying that until laws criminalizing libel are changed, they must be applied.

Roque, who posted his statement on his personal Facebook account, cited articles and bills he had written as well as position papers submitted to legislative bodies that sought to decriminalize libel.

“Unfortunately, despite my efforts (and the efforts of many others), libel remains to be a crime in this country, and cyber libel is still considered to be a more egregious variation of that offense. Until that law is changed, then it must be applied,” he said.

The former law professor said the conviction of Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr. did not mean that the government was cracking down on journalists, or that he endorsed the jailing journalists.

However, individuals like Wilfredo Keng, who filed the case against Ressa, were entitled to seek remedies under the law if they believed their rights were violated, Roque said.

“Would I personally have filed a case like that? No, but that does not mean that Mr. Wilfredo Keng should not have done so. He—and all of us—are entitled to seek remedies under the law when we believe our rights are violated.”

Roque told press freedom advocates to “apply your energies to changing the remedies available under the law.”

“I agree that journalists should be held accountable when they do a bad job and harm people, but I don’t believe that means locking them up. Until the law changes, however, that remains an option.”

Ressa and Santos were sentenced to six months and one day to six years in jail, and were ordered to pay P200,000 for moral damages and P200,000 for exemplary damages.

Both may apply for probation, but could be jailed should they appeal their case and lose. John Ezekiel J. Hirro