The CEO of online news organization Rappler, Maria Ressa, says that the Duterte administration is using the law as a weapon to intimidate and silence its critics.
Ressa was arrested Wednesday in connection with a cyberlibel case filed against her and a former Rappler reporter by The Department of Justice. The story in question, published 2012, was about how former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona had used SUVs of prominent businessmen, which included businessman William Keng.
Ressa spent the night in jail but posted bail the following day – the seventh time, she said. In all, she has posted bail of P364,000.
This is not the first legal wrinkle faced by Rappler, which has been critical of Mr. Duterte and the administration’s policies.
Early last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission moved to revoked Rappler’s license to operate, saying it was effectively owned by a foreign entity. In March, the Bureau of Internal Revenue filed a tax evasion case against Rappler, Ressa and Rappler’s treasurer for supposedly attempting to evade paying taxes and for failing to provide accurate information on its income tax and value-added tax returns for 2015.
Rappler’s reporter was prevented from entering Malacañang to cover its events.
Despite all these, or likely because, Ressa was among the journalists hailed as Person of the Year by TIME Magazine, alongside slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, jailed Burmese journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo of Reuters and the Capital Gazette in Maryland. They were depicted as guardians of the truth.
Ressa’s arrest has also prompted condemnation from British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour, among others.
Meanwhile, the Palace slammed Ressa’s allegations and said she was simply blaming the government for the incompetence and unpreparedness of her lawyers.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, in usual fashion, spewed a mouthful as he denied Mr. Duterte’s hand in Ressa’s predicament.
“Excuse me, Maria. You are the one abusing your power as a journalist,” Panelo said.
Sadly, the administration’s personal attacks and emphatic words against Ressa all serve to negate its denial that it is out to silence its critics. Perhaps it is not aware that a consequence of what it is doing is to reinforce the perception that it is indeed oppressing those who dare speak out.
The lawyers and the courts will thresh out the merits of the case. In the meantime, any more words to demonize, belittle or punish those who do not agree with the administration’s policies will only reflect badly on the government.