Muscat: A spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte has called for the CEO of online news portal Rappler to stop using press freedom as an excuse for her recent arrests.
The comment was made after the world-renowned journalist Maria Ressa was arrested on arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) after returning from a trip to the US.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, “She cannot be complaining that this is again a violation of press freedom. Press freedom has nothing to do with the charges against Ms. Ressa.
“She is charged of a crime, and there is a determination of probable cause, hence a warrant of arrest has been issued. She should concentrate on defending herself in court. She cannot be always using the freedom of the press as an excuse to attack the administration,” he added.
Ressa has been one of Duterte’s most vocal critics since he came to power in 2016. In February 2019, she was arrested and charged with libel for a report written seven years ago. The Times Magazine 2018 ‘Person of the Year’ has seven active cases against her and 11 overall.
In her most recent case, Ressa was charged with violating the Philippines’ anti-dummy law. The co-accused in the case were other officials from Rappler. Authorities have said the charges were filed by the National Bureau of Investigation Cybercrime Division. She denies the charges and claims they are an attempt to silence media critical of Duterte.
“We have done nothing wrong. The charges were manufactured because the government wants to silence us. Period,” said Ressa. “11 active cases filed in a little over a year. Arrested 2x in 2 months. Posted bail 7x. Selective justice. My only crime is to be a journalist, who refuses to be silenced. This is weaponisation of the law.”
Members of the Duterte administration have denied the allegations, accusing Ressa of putting herself above the law.
“She is complaining again that she’s being arrested. All are equal before the law. She wants to be treated differently – that cannot be done. All warrants of arrest issued by competent courts are to be served the way it was served to her this morning. And warrants of arrest are not issued unless the courts’ judges determine there is a probable cause – which means, due process has been observed,” Panelo said.
Ressa was released after posting bail.