DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Rappler chief Maria Ressa was detained overnight at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Pasay City for cyber libel charges, in what media watchdog and lawyer’s group called, as a “shameless act of persecution by a bully government.”
Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) served the arrest warrant issued on Tuesday by Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa of the Regional Trial Court Branch 46 in Manila.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel charges which stemmed from a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng, over an article published by Rappler in 2012 titled “CJ using SUVs of controversial businessman” during the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) deemed the arrest of Ressa as “shameless act of persecution by a bully government.”
The NUJP slammed the DOJ for charging Ressa on an offense allegedly committed even before the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was actually enacted.
“This government, led by a man who has proven averse to criticism and dissent, now proves it will go to ridiculous lengths to forcibly silence a critical media and stifle free expression and thought,” NUJP said.
“It is clear this is part of the administration’s obsession to shut Rappler down and intimidate the rest of the independent Philippine media into toeing the lines,” it added.
The NUJP stood with Maria Ressa and Rappler on this issue and urged other media practitioners to resist the “blatant assault” on their right and liberties.
“We call on all freedom-loving Filipinos to stand with the independent Philippine press in defense of the rights not only of media but of the people. For in suppressing the press it is the people’s right to know that is trampled on.”
Two months ago, Ressa has just posted bail for alleged violations of the Tax Code, which she believed was a “clear case of persecution.”
Media and arts alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) has also released a statement denouncing the arrest of Ressa.
The group hold President Rodrigo Duterte accountable for this “latest frontal attack on a journalist and her media outlet for the ‘crime’ of critical and courageous reportage.”
Preposterous and baseless
Rappler in a statement, found the filing of case against Ressa as ”preposterous and baseless.” Rappler clarified that they reached out to Mr. Keng and got his side before the said story was published.
“The filing of the case is preposterous and baseless. No less than NBI Cybercrime Division chief Manuel Eduarte closed an investigation in February 2018 after finding no basis to proceed, given that the one-year prescriptive period had lapsed. Eight days later, however, the NBI revived the case, and filed it with the Department of Justice on the basis of a theory they call “continuous publication,” Rappler explained.
The news outfit believed that the arrest is a “dangerous precedent” putting anyone in danger of being charged of libel. It could be also an “effective tool of harassment and intimidation” to silence critical reporting on the part of the media, it added.
“If this is another of several attempts to intimidate us, it will not succeed, as past attempts have shown. Maria Ressa and Rappler will continue to do our jobs as journalists. We will continue to tell the truth and report what we see and hear. We are first and foremost journalists, we are truthtellers,” Rappler said.
Meanwhile, Atty. Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL) in a Facebook post, said that the arrest is not only effective censorship but practically prior restraint.
“Let there be no doubt about it: whether you are a senator, nun, lawyer, activist, human rights defender, or peace advocate, you will be in the crosshairs of government’s whole coercive apparatus if you dissent or criticize so good that they will make you look so bad,” Olalia said.
Senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares also believed that Rappler’s critical reports on Duterte’s government had to do with the arrest.
“Arresting someone who is not in hiding, at a time when it would be difficult to post bail, smacks of harassment. If Maria Ressa and Rappler were all praises for the government she would not have been arrested this way,” Colmenares posted on Twitter.
“The DOJ might have even dismissed the complaint against her,” Colmenares added. (davaotoday.com)