JOURNALIST MARIA A. Ressa has posted a P100,000 bail and been freed after an overnight detention at the National Bureau of Investigation following her Feb. 13 arrest for the cyber libel complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo D. Keng.
Mr. Keng, in a statement through his legal counsel, welcomed the charging of Ms. Ressa and emphasized that he is “committed to see this legal battle to the very end.”
He also said that online new site Rappler, where Ms. Ressa is chief executive officer and executive editor, never attempted to get his side or fact-check the allegations against him and that he never had criminal records.
The Department of Justice (DoJ), in a Jan. 10 resolution, indicted Rappler, Inc. Ms. Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. for cyber libel over an article published on May 29, 2012 titled “CJ Using SUVs of Controversial Businessman.”
The article, updated on Feb. 19, 2014, tagged Mr. Keng, the alleged owner of the vehicle used by former chief justice Renato C. Corona, as involved in various illegal activities.
Mr. Keng said that with the development in the case, “it is thus high time that we remember that the foundation of our independence, democracy and freedom is based on one simple truth: no one is above the law.”
“As I pursue this case to its just conclusion, I pray that the dispensation of justice be lawful and swift in recognition of the global platform of the perpetrators,” he said.
The businessman also noted that his complaint is a “test case” on the how the judicial system in the country will “fare against the dangerous precedent that is being set by one reckless and irresponsible member of the media and of the online community.”
Ms. Ressa’s lawyer, Jose Jesus M. Disini, Jr.,, said they will file a motion to quash the information filed by the DoJ before the court last Feb. 6.
“The judge basically agrees with the probable cause of the Department of Justice,” Mr. Disini told reporters. “What we will do is we will file a separate motion to question what was filed and try to have it quashed.”
For her part, Ms. Ressa said her arrest is a demonstration of “abuse of power and weaponization of the law.”
“This isn’t just about me, and it’s not just about Rappler. The message the government is sending is very clear. And someone actually told our reporter this last night, ‘Be silent or you’re next.’ So I’m saying and appealing to you not to be silent even if and especially if you’re next,” she told reporters after posting bail.
She also hit Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra, saying that her case was due to his actions.
“DoJ, Secretary Guevarra who I thought is professional, these are your actions. The ripple effects are what we feel as a society but you don’t want to be known as Secretary of Injustice. I also have the right to hold you accountable. I am a citizen of this country and you can’t violate my rights,” she said.
The DoJ, on the other hand, disputed “unfounded allegations” that the arrest of Ms. Ressa is an attack against press freedom.
In a statement issued by Undersecretary and Spokesperson Markk L. Perete, the DoJ said the courts have consistently held that libel “does not enjoy protection” under the Constitution.
“It is therefore irresponsible to claim that press freedom is being curtailed because Ms. Ressa was arrested and faces prosecution for libel. Certainly, the freedom of the press, of speech and of expression, do not give any person — whether journalist, a blogger, or any person of whatever occupation —t he license to engage in libel,” Mr. Perete said.
The DoJ also emphasized that Ms. Ressa has the opportunity to defend herself and disprove the accusations against her.
The arrest of Ms. Ressa has been widely criticized by local and foreign personalities, organizations, and institutions.
Speaking at Naga City on Thursday, Vice President Maria Leonor G. Robredo said the harassment on Rappler was reminiscent of martial law under former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said the rule of law must prevail in the case of Rappler and Ms. Ressa.
“As there are questions on the arrest of Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa, we urge the government to ensure Constitutional guarantees, including due process and equal protection of laws, are equally applied to her,” said CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia on Thursday.
Meanwhile, David Kaye, United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of right to freedom of opinion and expression, sees the arrest as “inconsistent” with the Philippines’ international obligations on freedom of expression.
“Let’s be clear: this very serious escalation of media inconsistent with Philippines obligations to promote and protect freedom of expression,” he said on Twitter.
The Philippines is a state party in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966.
Opposition lawmakers also expressed condemnation, including detained Senator Leila M. De Lima.
“For DoJ to give due course to this case, in spite of its clear infirmities, is demonstrative of an ongoing vendetta against the media outfit,” she said.
International groups also expressed disappointment.
International Center for Journalist (ICFJ) said on Wednesday that “journalism is not a crime.”
“We are outraged over Maria’s arrest,” said ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan in a statement.
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) also flagged the incident.
“We will continue to hold those in power led by President Rodrigo R. Duterte or any other leader and their administrations accountable every time we need to. We will speak truth to power with all independent media across the Philippines,” said FOCAP President Jamela Alindogan in a statement.
In Twitter post, CNN Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour said: “You know a government is desperate when they arrest a journalist.”
Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described the arrest as “outrageous.”
Meanwhile, Ateneo de Manila University President Ramon Jose Villarin, a Jesuit priest, encouraged everyone to “speak when we see things which are not right.”
“In an atmosphere of fear and silence, we are obliged to speak when we see things which are not right, even if doing so can bring individuals and institutions to peril. Speaking truth can be daunting but the greater imperative is to stand our ground against those who sow fear when the truth is spoken,” said Mr. Villarin in a statement on Wednesday night.
De La Salle Philippines President Armin A. Luistro also made a statement on Wednesday through his Instagram account.
“Let’s defend press freedom. Let’s make our voices heard. Let’s vote with our feet and stand with Maria Ressa,” said Mr. Luistro.
The University of Santo Tomas Journalism Society questioned the cyber libel case filed against Ms. Ressa. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Vince Angelo C. Ferreras