JOURNALIST MARIA A. Ressa, chief executive officer and executive editor of online news site Rappler, was served an arrest warrant on Wednesday by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for cyber libel.
In a Twitter post, Rappler said the arrest warrant was “served by the NBI Cybercrime Division” at the company’s headquarters in Pasig City.
The NBI served the Feb. 12 warrant of arrest issued by Judge Rainelda H. Estacio-Montesa of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 for violation of Section 4(c)(4) of Republic Act No 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
The arrest warrant also included former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos, Jr.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) on Jan. 10 indicted Rappler, Inc., Ms. Ressa and Mr. Santos over an article it published on May 29, 2012 titled “CJ Using SUVs of Controversial Businessman,” which reported that businessman Wilfredo D. Keng is involved in various illegal activities.
The DoJ dismissed the claim of Rappler that they cannot be charged with cyber libel as RA 10175 was signed into law on Sept. 12, 2012, four months after the publication of the article.
DoJ cited the 2014 revision of the article, which it said constitutes the “multiple publication rule” stating that “a single defamatory statement, if published several times, gives rise to as many offenses as there are publications.”
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra told reporters late Wednesday that the department had “no info(rmation) as of this time” on the arrest.
“In all likelihood, the warrant is in relation to the cyber libel case. This is simply procedural. Ms. Ressa may post bail anytime, even before the warrant is served,” Mr. Guevarra said.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo, sought for comment, said in a phone message to BusinessWorld, “We do not interfere on cases pending before the courts.”
He added that the arrest order is based on the determination of “probable cause.”
“[We] reiterate our previous statement [that it has] nothing to [do] with freedom of expression. Ressa is given the opportunity to defend herself. Whatever the outcome of [the investigation is] must be respected by everyone. That is that rule of law….” he said further.
For its part, the National Union of Journalists (NUJP) said in a statement, “The arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa on the clearly manipulated charge of cyber libel is a shameless act of persecution by a bully government.”
“This government, led by a man who has proven averse to criticism and dissent, now proves it will go to ridiculous lengths to forcibly silence a critical media and stifle free expression and thought,” the group said, referring to President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
In the same case, charges against respondents Manuel I. Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Glenda M. Gloria, James Bitanga, Felicia Atienza, Dan Albert De Padua, and Jose Maria G. Holifeña were dismissed earlier as they had no participation in the writing and publication of the report. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Arjay L. Balinbin