'I shouldn't be detained': Maria Ressa calls on gov't to observe rule of law

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 14 2019 04:53 AM

Maria Ressa, an executive of online news platform Rappler, speaks to the media after being served an arrest warrant in Rappler's office in Pasig City, Philippines February, 13 2019. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

MANILA - I shouldn't be detained.

Rappler chief Maria Ressa had this to say about her arrest over a cyber libel case on an investigative report that was first published in 2012, a move seen by many journalists and administration critics as harassment, censorship, and politically motivated

"I think what's shocking about it for me is it crosses another line. Is that what it takes to be a journalist in the Philippines today?" the seasoned journalist told reporters at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), where she is currently being held. 

"We are just telling the story of what's happening. So, they went through a lot of effort to have me here tonight." 

Ressa, who was among four truth fighters named by TIME magazine as "Person of the Year" in 2018 for facing "dangerous threats" for "just doing their jobs," called on the government to observe the rule of law and to stop using it against its critics.

Ressa believes her arrest, which stemmed from a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng over his alleged ties to former Chief Justice Renato Corona, is a travesty.

"To me, what is different about this, another line was crossed tonight. It wasn't enough to intimidate me and Rappler with the threat of legal cases, the threat of tax cases, all of which we'll fight in court. This one now is they want me to feel that I can be imprisoned. Okay, I'm here," she said.

She added, "But that still doesn't mean that Rappler or I hope any journalist in the Philippines will stop telling the truth. We will and must hold the line. We will and must say when the constitution is violated."

Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corporation, the holding company of Rappler Inc. that runs the news website, is also facing 5 tax evasion charges before the Court of Tax Appeals and the Pasig City Regional Trial Court.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2018 also revoked the certificate of incorporation of Rappler for allegedly violating the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.

"This is how far the government will go to try to silence a voice. I mean, what are they afraid of?" Ressa said.

UNUSUAL EVENTS

Her lawyer Jose Jesus "JJ" Disini, a cybercrime law expert, said the timing of Ressa's arrest is suspicious.

"The events of tonight show that the circumstances have conspired to keep her detained here for this period of time, which in the ordinary course of events would have not happened. This is an unusual procedure. Especially for an offense such as this," he said.

First, the arrest warrant was served by NBI after office hours, Disini said.

A Pasay City night court judge also refused to grant them bail, even if it has the authority to do so, he added.

"The information that we received was that there was some concern expressed by the judge that perhaps he didn't have the jurisdiction because he's a metropolitan trial court judge and this is a case before the regional trial court," he said. "But the law says actually that he did have the authority to order the release but... It got to the point where the court actually shut down."

Disini said they will post bail Thursday morning and will seek to quash the complaint, which he described as deficient on many grounds.

"The position of DOJ is that cyber libel expires in 12 years, when in fact the Supreme Court in a cyber crime case said that cyber libel is the same as libel in the Revised Penal Code. The Revised Penal Code says that libel expires 1 year after publication," he said.

The republication of the material in 2014 due to a correction of a punctuation mark also doesn't carry weight, he said.

"This is a legal point that perhaps I think is something that we can bring all the way up to the Supreme Court because it's unique under our Philippine law and particularly relevant for online publication where corrections are made and corrections are published online," Disini added.