MANILA — Malacañang on Friday said the rule of law was followed in the arrest of Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa for cyberlibel amid criticisms of suppressing press freedom.
“Under the Constitution, before a judge can issue a warrant for an arrest of a person, he has to personally go through the evidence presented before the court and determines whether there is probable cause. And obviously the judge saw — found probable cause, hence there is an issuance of warrant for her arrest – that is an observance of the rule of law,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a briefing.
Panelo, also Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, cited equality under the law in Ressa’s arrest after the latter’s claim of being arrested late in the afternoon, rendering her unable to post bail.
“The warrant is directed to a peace officer to arrest her or any person for that matter facing a criminal charge as soon as possible – or in other words, immediately. There is no specific time frame. The direction is to bring that person before the court in accordance with law,” Panelo said.
“Oh Maria, you want to be treated differently from a class of persons subject to a warrant of arrest just because you are a high profile journalist? Excuse me Maria, the law is no respecter of social status – everyone is equal under the law. Just because you are a high profile journalist, you want to be treated differently,” he added.
Panelo said Ressa should blame her lawyers for not being able to post bail on Wednesday evening.
“You cannot blame the court nor the government nor this administration nor the President on the incompetence of your lawyer. Your lawyer should have argued before the court that that’s your case, your case grants you entitlement as a matter of right of bail. The absence of an information sheet is not an excuse not to grant you bail,” he said.
Panelo reiterated that Ressa’s case has nothing to do with press freedom in the country.
“This is not a case of freedom of expression as you claim. It is a case of one man in the person of the complainant, asserting his right under the law for a perceived violation of his right – that is why he filed a case against you,” Panelo said, addressing Ressa.
The Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 on Wednesday issued a warrant of arrest against Ressa and Rappler writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. after being charged under the provision on content-related offenses, which include libel committed through a computer system or similar means.
This stemmed from a cyber libel complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng in October 2017, who was named by Santos in the article titled, “CJ using SUVs of ‘controversial’ businessmen’, as the owner of a sports utility vehicle used by the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona. He was being tied to drugs and human trafficking in the said article.
The article was published in 2012 and updated in 2014.
Ressa posted a bail of PHP100,000 on Thursday for her temporary liberty, not long after she publicly denounced the Philippine justice system for allegedly persecuting her. (PNA)