By Joel R. San Juan, February 15 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to CNN Philippines

JUSTICE Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra on Thursday dismissed the claim of Maria Ressa, chief executive officer and executive editor of online news provider Rappler, and her supporters that her arrest in connection with her cyber libel case represents a political persecution and an attack on press freedom.

Guevarra told reporters that Ressa could have spared herself from being arrested and detained by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Wednesday if she really wanted to.

“The arrest of Ms. Ressa is simply procedural. She may post bail anytime—even before the warrant was served. There is no breaking of rule of law. We are following criminal procedures here,” Guevarra pointed out.

The DOJ chief reiterated that Ressa was accorded due process even during the preliminary investigation stage of the cyber libel complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng.

“The cases against Rappler and Ms. Ressa have nothing to do with press freedom. Anyone who breaks the law shall be prosecuted,” Guevarra stressed.

“I assure her constitutional and legal rights will be respected, and I trust that the court will give her a fair trial, based solely on the facts and the law, and not on arguments ad hominem and emotional rhetoric,” he added.

Ressa was arrested by virtue of an arrest warrant issued by Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46.

The warrant also covers Reynaldo Santos Jr., a former Rappler researcher.

The two have been accused of violating Section 4 of Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, by Keng over an online article published by Rappler on May 29, 2012.

The cybercrime law was only enacted in September that year, and Ressa’s camp insisted that the complaint should have been dismissed.

The NBI, for its part, cited “continuous publication” theory in justifying the filing of the complaint.

The agency maintained that as long as the article can be found online, it can be covered by the said law even if the law was first published before its enactment.

Keng said Rappler promised through formal and informal channels to heed his demand to take down the subject article and to clear his name, but this never happened as the article remains posted on its web site.

She said Ressa and Santos never tried to get his side or to fact-check the supposed crimes being imputed to him before posting the article.

“I have never had a criminal record. For almost four decades since I started working, I have consistently secured official clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation certifying that I have never been involved in any criminal case and have never had any criminal history,” Keng said.

“Since the 1980’s, I have never been investigated by or summoned before any law enforcement agency in connection with any alleged criminal act, much less have I been indicted, arrested, detained or convicted of any crime in the Philippines. Further, the National Bureau of Investigation, as the central repository and chief administrator of the country’s criminal history records, would never have found in my favor and filed the complaint against Rappler, along with its concerned officers and reporter, for cyber libel concerning defamatory imputation of crime if I had any criminal record or history in their files,” he added.

No one is above the law

Keng, in a news statement, reminded Rappler that “the foundation of our independence, democracy and freedom is based on one simple truth: no one is above the law.”

He lamented that the said article destroyed his reputation and put his life in danger despite the fact that he has never been charged or prosecuted for any criminal offense in his entire life.

“In the end, this story is not just about an ordinary suit filed by a private and hardworking citizen to clear his name. It is, in reality, a test case on how the Philippine legal and judicial system will fare against the dangerous precedent that is being set by one reckless and irresponsible member of the media and of the online community,” Keng added.

Keng also accused Ressa of trying to mislead the public by releasing news that his complaint against them was purportedly “dismissed” by the NBI.

“Such reckless, premature and inaccurate reporting on official government processes reek of actual malice and cyber bullying and border on the intentional propagation of ‘fake news,’” he said.

The businessman also urged other victims of cyber bullying to defend their right by taking legal action against those responsible.

“If left unaccountable, Rappler, Ressa and Santos’s example of impunity will be emulated and replicated, and will destroy not just individual lives but our entire country,” Keng noted.

Meanwhile, Ressa’s camp posted bail in the amount of P100,000 before noon on Thursday at Manila RTC  Branch 46 for her temporary liberty.