Maria Ressa charges DOJ with 'selective justice'

MANILA, Philippines – Rappler CEO Maria Ressa charged the Department of Justice (DOJ) of engaging in "selective justice" after she was charged and arrested for cyber libel over a 2012 story that she did not edit or write.

Interviewed Friday morning, February 15, on ABS-CBN News Channel’s Headstart, Ressa said, “All I have to say is I am getting extremely special treatment, and frankly, this should stop.” 

She pointed out that she has had to post bail 6 times since December. As of February 15, Ressa has paid a total of P364,000 (almost US$7,000) for bail alone.

Ressa hit what she called the “weaponization of the law.”

“I’ve worked under dictatorships. I’ve negotiated with Suharto (of Indonesia) and in some ways it was easier to deal with the Suharto government than it is to deal with this administration, because of the weaponization of the law,” Ressa said.

Ressa added: “So many things moved, for one person it’s this, for another it’s this, without the rule of law, you have no safeguards in a democracy, and the very people in charge of protecting that are using it.”

Ressa said the cases against her just motivate her further. 

“What the government has done is to actually forge us in fire. It made me, as the CEO and a journalist, to decide early on that we would live according to our standards and ethics, that we will hold government accountable even if it’s bad for business.”

The story

Ressa pointed out that she was not involved in the editing of the story in question, an investigative report published in May 2012 and written by former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr about the impropriety of the late former chief justice Renato Corona using SUVs of businessmen, including Wilfredo Keng, the complainant. 

The story had additional inputs from senior reporter Aries Rufo (who has since died) based on an intelligence report. Santos resigned from Rappler in 2016.

“I stand by my article,” Santos said on Friday after posting bail worth P100,000. Ressa said she stands by the story too as the CEO of Rappler. 

“The only thing that shows abuse of power is demanding a takedown. We will not take something down just because someone doesn’t like it,” said Ressa.

In a statement on Friday, Keng said: “I will continue this criminal case against Rappler and Ressa, and am currently exploring all other cases that can be filed against them.”

Disputed portion

Keng complained, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed, that it was libelous for Santos to write that the businessman had links to human trafficking, drug smuggling, and even murder.

In the charge sheet, the DOJ quoted parts of Santos’ report where he cited an intelligence report that detailed the links to human trafficking, drug smuggling, and the death of Manila Councilor Chika Go in 2002. (READ: What’s inside Keng’s cyber libel complaint vs Rappler)

Santos also cited a Philippine Star report from 2002 where Keng was identified as "a prime suspect" for Go’s murder. The paper was not sued.

Keng filed the complaint against Santos and Ressa under the Duterte administration in October 2017.

He said in a statement, “I have nothing to do with and am in no way being used by the Philippine Government. I am an ordinary, private citizen and this is a personal, private suit.”

Getting arrested

The Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 46 issued the warrants of arrest against Santos and Ressa on February 12.

NBI agents arrested Ressa inside the Rappler newsroom on February 13. They arrived close to 5 pm, when courts were already closed. 

Ressa had to spend the night at the NBI before she could post bail the next day, after Pasay Metropolitan Trial Court Executive Judge Allan Ariola did not allow lawyers to post bail in his night court, citing jurisdiction. 

The DOJ charge against Santos and Ressa stretched the prescription of libel from one year to 12 years, which means that if that interpretation sticks, anyone publishing content online could be sued within 12 years of publication. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

image