Senators raise alarm over arrest of Rappler’s Maria Ressa
MANILA, Philippines – The arrest of Rappler chief executive Maria Ressa is a big blow to press freedom, several senators said Thursday.
Opposition Senator Leila de Lima condemned the circumstances that surrounded the arrest of Ressa, pointing out that National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents served the warrant at 5 p.m. depriving the journalist an opportunity to post bail as courts were already closed by then.
“Malinaw na malinaw na sinadya nilang arestuhin si Maria Ressa ng gabi upang siya ay gipitin at pahirapan,” De Lima, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, said in a dispatch from Camp Crame in Quezon City, where she is currently imprisoned over what she called as trumped-up drug charges.
“Malinaw rin na talagang pinilit nila ‘yung kaso na dapat ay na-dismiss na para lang idiin ang Rappler,” she added.
She also pointed out that the decision of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to indict Ressa over an article published in 2012 showed there is an “ongoing vendetta against the media outfit.”
(QUICK BACKGROUND: The case stemmed from a cybercrime complaint filed by Chinese-Filipino businessman Wilfredo Keng. Keng was among the subjects of an investigative report Rappler published in 2012.
According to a report written by Santos in 2012, Keng was supposedly lending his black Chevrolet Suburban, a sports utility vehicle, to former Chief Justice Renato Corona. Corona was facing an impeachment trial in the Senate when the story was published. Rappler reported that the SUV, which bore the plate number ZWK 111, was registered under Keng at the Land Transportation Office. While Keng admitted ZWK 111 was his, he stressed he doesn’t own the SUV Corona had been using, the report said. )
According to De Lima, herself a lawyer, DOJ had two reasons to clear the case: 1) the law that Ressa allegedly violated has not yet been enacted when the article was published; and 2) the case filed against Ressa was beyond the one-year prescriptive period.
“For DOJ to give due course to this case, in spite of its clear infirmities, is demonstrative of an ongoing vendetta against the media outfit,” she said.
The detained senator then condemned Ressa’s arrest for being a clear deprivation of freedom of the media and an attempt to silence people who expose wrongdoings of the government.
“Mariin nating kinokondena ang ginawa at ginagawang panggigipit ng DOJ at NBI kay Maria Ressa,” she said.
“Ito ay malinaw na paniniil sa kalayaan ng ating mamamahayag at pagpapatahimik sa mga taong nagsisiwalat ng katiwalian, kabuktutan at krimen na nangyayari at patuloy na nangyayari sa ating gobyerno,” she added.
Senator Bam Aquino echoed De Lima’s take on Ressa’s arrest and expressed alarm over its impact on the Philippines’ “free press.”
“Lubha akong nababahala sa dagok na ito sa malayang pamamahayag. Mahalagang haligi ng demokrasya ng ating bansa ang press freedom,” Aquino said in a statement.
“Kapag napilay ang demokrasya, mamemeligro ang mga karapatan at kalayaan ng mamamayan,” he added.
Meanwhile, Senator Chiz Escudero pointed out the government should avoid causing “a chilling effect on members of the media” since “a free and unbridled” fourth estate is essential to bureaucracy.
“Every Government NEEDS a free and unbridled press and should avoid sending/creating a chilling effect on members of the media,” Escudero wrote in a Twitter post.
“As Voltaire said: ‘I may not agree with what you are saying, but I will defend to the death your right to say it…’,” he added.
Every Government NEEDS a free and unbridled press and should avoid sending/creating a chilling effect on members of the media. As Voltaire said: “I may not agree with what you are saying, but I will defend to the death your rigjt to say it…” https://t.co/yamB0okhB8
— Chiz Escudero (@SayChiz) February 14, 2019
Late afternoon Wednesday, February 13, NBI agents went to Rappler’s office and arrested Ressa by virtue of a warrant issued by Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 due to a cyberlibel case.
Ressa spent the night at NBI headquarters on Taft Avenue, Manila after a Pasay City night court refused to accept her bail. /kga/ac
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