The chairman of the board of Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) on Thursday said the arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa over a cyber libel case is meant to "harass, intimidate, repress and silence" dissent.
Speaking to ANC's Early Edition, veteran journalist Vergel Santos said it is too much of a stretch to believe Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo's statement that Ressa's arrest has "nothing to do with freedom of expression or the press."
He noted that the cyber libel complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng, based on an article published in May 2012, is based on the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which came out after the publication of the article. The NBI, however, said the libel was a continuing crime because the article was still uploaded.
"They can deny all they like...It is simply too much of a stretch to hold anyone liable under a law that came into effect after the violation had been committed. It's funny. This high handed move on Maria Ressa is very much in keeping with the character of this oppressive regime. Imagine a warrant of arrest being served so late in the day. It gave Maria no time for recourse," he said.
Santos said the filing of libel charges is the favorite weapon against journalists "among people in power, people of wealth and influence." He said libel should be decriminalized.
"We all know that the President is unable to accommodate an adversarial press in his autocratic mansion," he said.
Ressa, who was among 4 truth fighters named by TIME magazine as "Person of the Year" in 2018," was detained overnight at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters after a Pasay City night court refused to accept her bail.
Aside from cyber libel, Rappler and Ressa are also facing tax evasion charges.
In the interview, Santos questioned why Rappler was singled out "for reporting something that in fact other news media reported themselves."
"The man accusing Rappler of libel is saying he was not the sort of man that certain intelligence reports make him out to be, not Rappler by the way but certain intelligence reports. He should libel NBI, not Rappler. Why Rappler? Rappler is simply reporting what he is made out to be in certain reports," he said.
He added: "This is chilling, definitely chilling. Whatever bold reporting that is left around is certain to be softened by all this. The intention is clear. The idea is to intimidate not only to harass, but to intimidate to repress, and eventually to silence..."