Ressa arrest shows 'obvious pattern of harassment': media groups

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 29 2019 02:45 PM

Police take custody of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Friday, March 29, 2019 in this photo released by Rappler. Handout

MANILA - The recent arrest of Rappler chief Maria Ressa over an Anti-Dummy Law case confirms the Duterte administration's pattern of harassment meant to "intimidate the independent and critical press," several media organizations said Friday.

Police took custody of Ressa past 6 a.m. Friday as soon as she stepped off a plane from San Francisco at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. 

She was released hours later after posting bail. It was her second arrest in more than a month. 

"Rappler has clearly become the whipping boy of the Duterte administration as it seeks to silence or intimidate the independent and critical press," the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in a statement.

"With all these, it is hard to shake the suspicion that the filing of this latest case was timed to make sure Maria would be welcomed home by an arresting team as soon as she stepped off her flight from abroad," it said.

Ressa and Rappler, known for critical reportage on the administration, are facing at least 9 other libel and tax-related charges. 

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"It's part of an obvious pattern of harassment. After all, the 11 complaints and charges against Rappler is practically government resources are being used," Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility board member Luis Teodoro told ANC's Dateline Philippines.

"If a government if committed, protective of press freedom, it would go out of its way to allow organizations like Rappler to make corrections to whatever errors it might have committed," he said.

Palace officials earlier barred Rappler reporters from entering the Malacañang complex and from covering Duterte's official events.

Former Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said Duterte was irked at the news organization that allegedly peddled fake news against the government.

“Ang Presidente rin ang nag-utos nung alas-dos ng hapon na talagang hindi na pupuwede ang Rappler sa Malacanang, dahil nawalan na ng tiwala ang Presidente nga diyan sa Rappler,” Roque told dzMM.

(It was the President who ordered, around 2 p.m., that Rappler cannot enter Malacañang because he has lost trust in them.)

The multiple cases lodged against Ressa and her team may be bailable but should still be considered as a threat to press freedom, Teodoro said.

"Fortunately, Rappler can afford the bail, but it is costing Rappler a lot of money already," he said.

"A media organization which is less financially liquid could be unable to post bail if charges like these were filed. It would mean that practitioners could be imprisoned and the media organization could hold up," he said.

The NUJP called on journalists to stand together to "resist this administration's attempts to muzzle" the media.

"Let us all stand by Rappler and the community of independent Filipino journalists in resisting this administration's attempts to muzzle us and, in doing so, silence our people's voices and deprive them of the information they need to decide on their personal and collective futures," the NUJP said.

"This intolerant and vindictive government's ham-fisted efforts to humiliate Rappler and its officers and personnel have succeeded only in humiliating itself in the eyes of the world and everyone who values freedom and democracy," the group said.

Pasig City prosecutors had indicted Ressa and Rappler executives Manuel Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Glenda Gloria, James Bitangca, Felicia Atienza, and James Velasquez for alleged violation of the anti-dummy law. 

The other accused earlier posted bail. 

The Rappler executives were brought to court for allegedly violating the constitutional requirement for mass media to be 100-percent Filipino owned. Rappler's incorporation certificate was revoked in January 2018 because it allowed foreign-owned Omidyar Network to hold Philippine Depositary receipts (PDRs).

The Philippines, under the anti-dummy law, prohibits foreigners from intervening in the management, operation, administration, or control of any nationalized activity.

Ressa was arrested in Rappler's headquarters in Pasig City last month over cyberlibel charges. She was released after overnight detention upon posting bail.