Rappler chief's arrest has 'nothing to do with freedom of expression': Panelo


Posted at Feb 13 2019 09:45 PM

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MANILA - The arrest of Rappler chief Maria Ressa over a cyber libel case does not mean freedom of expression is being suppressed in the country, Malacañang said on Wednesday night. 

"I said that has nothing to do with freedom of expression or freedom of the press. The past administrations regardless of who commits any crime, she or he will be charged in a court of law," Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told ANC.

Ressa was arrested Wednesday afternoon after she and news website Rappler were indicted for cyber libel over a 2012 published article about businessman Wilfredo Keng, which the Department of Justice said was "clearly defamatory."

The Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 issued the arrest warrant against Ressa on Tuesday, Feb. 12.

The news website will look for a night court and available judge to post bail for Ressa, said Rappler investigative desk editor Chay Hofileña after Ressa's arrest. 

A couple of hours later, however, Rappler said their efforts to post bail on Wednesday night at the Pasay City night court did not succeed. 

"Unfortunately, the judge refused to accept the bail despite having the power to do so under Rule 114 Section 17 of the Rules of Court," it added. 

Ressa had said she was willing to spend the night in jail.

"If I spend the night in jail, okay, fine. I think that people should know the line is crossed. But we’re journalists, we do our jobs so we keep going," she told reporters upon arrival at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters.

Panelo, meanwhile, said there was nothing wrong with authorities arresting Ressa after the courts closed for the day.

"They’re making a fuss about anything they perceive to be wrong. A warrant of arrest can be issued on a weekday. The only prohibition is you issue a warrant on a weekend and that will not give the respondent an opportunity to file bail. [The arrest] was on a weekday so what's the complaint?" he said.

Rappler, which has published stories critical of the Duterte administration, has scored cases and acts against it as an attack on press freedom. 

Aside from cyber libel, Rappler and Ressa are facing tax evasion charges.

A year ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler's incorporation papers, citing its alleged violation of the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.