The Palace and the Justice department said Thursday the arrest of Rappler chief executive Maria Ressa had “absolutely nothing to do” with press freedom, saying even “high-profile” journalists are not exempt from the rule of law.
A Pasay night court refused to process her bail, citing jurisdiction on the case.
Ressa, who was released after posting P100,000 bail on Thursday, bemoaned the “weaponization of the law,” but Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo denied that the administration was trying to silence her.
He said President Rodrigo Duterte did not even know the complainant, a businessman named Wilfredo Keng.
“Why would he be interested in this case, he doesn’t even know who filed it. In other words, there is absolutely nothing. There is no connection, whatever. This case is absolutely unrelated,” he said.
He also reminded Ressa that she was not exempted from the law.
“Maria should know that even though you’re a high-profile journalist, you will be exempted from the complaints of an ordinary citizen,” he said.
He said Ressa was correct to say the rule of law should be observed.
“She was charged because we’re observing the rule of law. As far as the complainant is concerned, she violated his rights,” he said, noting that the case progressed because authorities found probable cause for Ressa’s supposed crime during the preliminary investigation.
He said Ressa seemed to be enjoying the limelight.
“I watched her from the place she got arrested up to the NBI even until dawn, she was smiling, it seems she’s enjoying everything,” he said.
“How can you say there’s a violation of freedom of expression when she continued to criticize inside the NBI?” Panelo said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also denied that the arrest was an attack on press freedom.
“The cases against Rappler and Ms. Ressa have nothing to do with press freedom. Anyone who breaks the law shall be prosecuted,” Guevarra said.
“The DOJ will not file charges for the purpose of harassing journalists. Not under my watch,” he added.
Guevarra said Ressa was given due process as she was given chance to refute the charges during the earlier preliminary investigation conducted by the DOJ on the complaint filed by Keng and the National Bureau of Investigation.
He said Ressa’s camp could have prevented her arrest by posting bail even before the warrant was served.
“The arrest of Ms. Ressa is simply procedural,” he said. “We are following criminal procedures here.”
Keng, in a statement, said he was “deeply grateful that after the conduct of a lengthy, careful and meticulous investigation, the Department of Justice has categorically resolved to criminally charge Rappler Inc., Maria Angelita Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr. with cyber-libel in court.”
He said he was committed to see the legal battle against Ressa and Rappler “to the very end.”