Rappler CEO Maria Ressa released on bail after arrest at NAIA

ARRESTED. A police officer escorts Rappler chief executive officer, Maria Ressa (middle), at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport upon her arrival from the U.S. on Friday, March 29. Ressa was ordered arrested by the Pasig City Regional Trial Court Branch 265 on charges of violation of the Anti-Dummy Law. | Photo courtesy of the NAIA Media Affairs Division

Palace: Cases have “nothing to do with freedom of expression or the press” 

Veteran journalist and Rappler Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Maria Ressa posted bail on Friday, March 29 after being arrested upon her arrival at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The Pasig City police welcomed Ressa with an arrest warrant as she set foot in the Philippines from her trip to San Francisco, California. The arrest warrant was issued by the Pasig Regional Trial Court Branch 265 dated March 28.

“To any officer of the law, you are hereby commanded to arrest the person Maria Angelita Ressa who is to be found at (address redacted) or elsewhere and who stand charged before me of the crime of violation of Section 2-A of Commonwealth Act No. 108 or the Anti-Dummy Law,” the arrest warrant penned by Judge Acerey Pacheco stated.

However, she was able to secure bail amounting to P90,000 before the Pasig RTC in exchange for her provisional liberty. Ressa said that this was her seventh time to post bail as she faced 11 complaints and charges overall in a span of a year and three months.

“Sad day for me. Apparently, the Philippine government isn’t satisfied with arresting just me…They’re not criminals, neither am I. The fact that the government tries to label us as criminals is in itself criminal. This is the weaponization of the law,” she told reporters on Friday.

Ressa’s co-defendants, managing editor Glenda Gloria and five members of the company’s 2016 board — Felicia Atienza, Manuel Ayala, James Bitanga, Nico Jose Nolledo and James Velasquez — paid their bails worth the same amount on Wednesday, March 27 before the arrest warrant was served.

All of them have not posted bail for the Securities and Regulations Code violation amounting to P126,000 per accused. The bail amount for the anti-dummy and SEC violation charges for Ressa and other members of Rappler’s board brings the amount to P1.512 million.

“Rappler is not the first news organization that the president has attacked. He’s called us names. A week after President Trump in the United States called the New York Times and CNN ‘fake news,” President Duterte called Rappler ‘fake news.’ This is obviously not just a Filipino problem, it’s a global problem,” Ressa said Friday. “I think one of the things we need to step up and admit is that the press in this country is under attack.”

She added that she and Rappler will not “take the threats sitting down.”

“We’re actually going to believe in the rule of law, even though I’ve seen in the number of cases filed and the number of arrest warrants that have been issued that the rule of law has been weaponized,” she said. “I’m hoping the [judges] are guided by the spirit of the law and protect our democracy.”

Palace: All are equal before the law
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that Ressa should not consider the charges filed against her as the administration’s move to intimidate the critical media. He further noted that the cases have “nothing to do with freedom of expression or the press.”

“She is complaining again that she is being arrested. All are equal before the law. She wants to be treated differently. That cannot be done. She cannot be complaining that this is a violation of press freedom,” the palace spokesman said.

“All warrants of arrest issued by competent courts are to be served the way it was served to her this morning. Warrants of arrest are not issued unless the courts determine there is a probable cause which means the due process has been observed,” Panelo added.

In February, Ressa — who was named 2018 Time Person of the Year — was arrested and released on bail on suspicion of “cyber libel” by the Philippine Department of Justice.

The charges for that stemmed from a story published to Rappler involving businessman Wilfredo Keng from May 2012, months before the Philippines adopted a cybercrime prevention law. In 2014, Keng claimed that the piece linked him to human and drug trafficking, which prompted the paper to update the article that same year.

Groups support Rappler and Ressa
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said that Rappler “has clearly become the whipping boy of the Duterte administration as it seeks to silence and intimidate the independent and critical press.”

“This intolerant and vindictive government’s ham-fisted efforts to humiliate Rappler and its officers and personnel have succeeded only in humiliating itself in the eyes of the world and everyone who values freedom and democracy,” it added.

Human Rights Watch Asia Division Researcher Carlos Conde said that “the administration has shown a relentlessness in its persecution of government critics unseen since the time of the Marcos dictatorship.”

“This case against Ressa and members of her board is unprecedented and speaks volumes of the Duterte administration’s determination to shut the website down for its credible and consistent reporting on the government, particularly the ‘drug war,” Conde added.

Daniel Bastard, the head of Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s Asia-Pacific desk, said the “judicial harassment of Rappler by various government agencies is bordering on the absurd.

“In all, the website and its journalists are currently the targets of proceedings in at least 11 cases, each as spurious as the other. Against the government’s manipulation of the judicial system with the aim of silencing troublesome media outlets, Rappler stands as a pillar of democracy to be defended at all cost,” Bastard said.

The online news platform, Rappler issued a statement regarding the recent turn of events. According to them: “this pattern of harassment against Rappler that started in January 2018, when the SEC issued an order revoking its license has not stopped.”

“Issuing arrest warrants against them and the journalists (has) a chilling effect on the freedom of speech, on business and innovation. Instead of encouraging business and media to pursue innovation, the government is stifling such initiatives,” it added.

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