NBI HITS RAPPLER CEO AND PRRD TOP CRITIC FOR CYBER LIBEL
MANILA – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) charged into the Rappler headquarters to arrest Maria Ressa, the chief executive of the said media outlet. She was taken into custody on Wednesday after the court issued a warrant of arrest over a cyber libel case filed before the Department of Justice.
Ressa was caught off-guard at her office in Pasig City when the agents of NBI Cybercrime Division swarmed in to serve the arrest. She, and Rappler writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. were both named in the arrest of warrant dated Feb. 12, 2019 issued by Manila regional trial court Branch 46 Presiding Judge Rainelda H. Estacio-Montessa for violation of Sec. 4 (C)(4) of Rep. Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act.
On her right to post bail, the night court judge refuse to accommodate Ressa’s legal plea. While Santos had not been cited if he was arrested. As of this writing however, after staying in NBI custody for a night, Ressa’s legal defense posted bail of P100,000 before a Manila court on Thursday, February 14, for her to realease.
Ressa's lawyer, JJ Disini went to the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) as soon as it opened Thursday morning to pay the bail.
Ressa arrived at the court at 11:30 am on Thursday to personally appear before Branch 46. Coincidentally, Branch 46 Judge Montesa was serving duty at a Las Piñas court.
Montesa's pairing judge, Branch 45 Judge Maria Teresa Abadilla, processed the bail.
Against Press Freedom
The DOJ found probable cause in the complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation and businessman William Keng for violation of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act in March last year.
Published in May 2012, the article, written by Santos, cited an “intelligence report,” saying Keng had been under surveillance for his alleged involvement in human trafficking and drug smuggling.
The DOJ rejected the defense of the respondents that they could not be held liable under RA 10175, signed in September 2012 or four months after the article was posted on the news website.
It cited the updated version of the article, posted by Rappler on Feb. 19, 2014, was covered still by the law.
The DOJ also rejected the defense of the respondents that the complaint should be dismissed because of the one-year prescription period on libel cases, saying such rule did not apply to cyber libel.
Ressa previously spent nearly two decades working as a lead investigative reporter in Southeast Asia for CNN.
She is the author of two books concerning the rise of terrorism in Southeast Asia, 2013’s ′From Bin Laden to Facebook 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism′ and ′Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center′ in 2011.
Ressa is known to be a staunch critic of the administration, and the palace had also been very vocal with their conflict with her news organization, Rappler.
Since his presidential advent, President Rodrigo R. Duterte had many times indicted the news organization.
Last year, in February 2018, Rappler presidential beat reporter Pia Ranada was barred from the palace as ordered by Duterte himself according to a Malacañang personnel.
Jhopee Avanceña, head of Malacañang's Internal House Affairs Office (IHAO), told Ranada in a text message on February 20, "I informed the PSG (Presidential Security Group) not to allow you to enter the Palace since I was instructed last night by the president.”
Avanceña further told on PTV News that the president also wanted Ressa to be banned to enter the palace.
In light of all the administration’s move against Rappler and Ressa’s cyber libel case, international and local news organization slammed the government citing the dillema an attack against press freedom. The media advocates criticized Ressa's arrest, arguing that the time gap between the article's purported alteration and her arrest indicated a political element.
"You have to wonder, why is it that the person that is named in that article waited five years to file any charges," said Steven Butler, the Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.