Journalist Maria Ressa was arrested Wednesday, 13 February 2019, for online libel by officers of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) at Rappler’s office, in Pasig City. At least four agents and lawyers from the NBI’s Cybercrime Division came to serve the warrant signed by Manila RTC Presiding Judge Rainelda H. Estacio-Montesa. The warrant dated 12 February 2019 was served close to 5 p.m. yesterday, when courts were about to close.
A complaint was filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng five years after a story was published on 29 May 2012, or months before the Cybercrime Law was enacted. The Rappler story said former chief justice Renato Corona used a vehicle registered under the name of Mr. Keng, who, based on intelligence reports and previously published stories, had alleged links to illegal drugs and human trafficking. Rappler also called Keng and got his side before the story was published.
Rappler said the filing of the case is preposterous and baseless. No less than NBI Cybercrime Division chief Manuel Eduarte closed an investigation in February 2018 after finding no basis to proceed, given that the one-year prescriptive period had lapsed. Eight days later, however, the NBI revived the case, and filed it with the Department of Justice on the basis of a theory they call continuous publication.
These are the latest charges against Rappler which has come under repeated attack from the Philippines Government since President Duterte came into office. On December 3, an arrest warrant was issued for Rappler CEO Maria Resa after she and Rappler were charged with five counts of tax fraud. On February 20, Rappler journalist Pia Randa was barred from the Presidential palace, despite covering the politics beat.
Maria Ressa and Rappler will continue to do their jobs as journalists and media. Ressa has said: “We are not intimidated. No amount of legal cases, black propaganda, and lies can silence Filipino journalists who continue to hold the line. These legal acrobatics show how far the government will go to silence journalists, including the pettiness of forcing me to spend the night in jail.”
Based on these new developments in the Philippines, AJI stated:
1. Condemning the arrest of Maria Ressa. This arrest was none other than an attempt to silence journalists and media who were critical to the government.
2. Expressing solidarity and support for Maria Ressa, Rappler and our colleagues in the Philippines, The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
3. Urging the Philippine government to respect democracy, protect the freedom of the press by stopping all kinds of intimidation and drop all charges against Maria Ressa.
Jakarta, February 13, 2019
Chairman of AJI Indonesia, Abdul Manan
General Secretary of AJI, Revolusi Riza