Rappler CEO Maria Ressa should stop blaming the government for the “incompetence and unpreparedness” of her lawyers, Malacañang said on Friday, stressing the administration will “never” interfere in the judiciary’s affairs.
In a Palace press briefing, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo shrugged off anew Ressa’s claims that the government has used the country’s laws to attack her.
“She says that there has been an irregularity in the filing of the case, as well as she’s harassed. Let me tell you, Maria, that the case filed against you was in accordance with the law. This is not a case of freedom of expression as you claimed. It is a case of one man, and personally complainant, asserting his right under the law for a perceived violation of his right,” Panelo said.
He said it was Ressa who was abusive of the rights given to her by the Constitution as a member of the press by saying that the government instills fears to journalists because of her case.
“Now you say, ‘There is an abuse of power.’ Excuse me Maria, abuse of power? You are the one abusing your power as a journalist. You’re marshaling your colleagues to support you on the basis of a misplaced and baseless cause,” he said.
“You are the one using or weaponizing the law. What is the law? The
Constitutional right to freedom of expression – you are using that now against the government.”
Panelo reminded Ressa that under the Constitution, libel is not protected by the freedom of expression.
“That is precisely why you are charged because as far as this complainant is concerned, his rights have been violated by you,” he said.
“You have to be woman enough to face the complaint against you. Stop blaming the government. Otherwise, if we will follow your logic, then journalists, commentators, reporters can no longer be sued because there will always be the accusation, the allegation, the perception that the government is trying to curtail their freedom of expression.”
On Wednesday evening, agents of the National Bureau of Investigation stormed Ressa’s office after a court issued an arrest warrant against her over a cyber libel case filed by the Department of Justice.
Ressa said the incident only exemplifies the government’s “abuse of power and weaponization of the law.”
But Panelo, a lawyer, insisted the rule of law has been observed in Ressa’s case, stressing that even journalists are not above the law.
“The law does not discriminate. It is no respecter of social status.
Everyone is equal before the law,” he said.
In a chance interview on Thursday evening, the President said he was unaware of Ressa’s legal ordeal.
“I really don’t know that. Not for today. Why was she arrested? Who filed it?” the President asked.
He also denied that Ressa’s arrest was an attack on press freedom.
“My God, far from it. Actually, I do not relish [the thought of attacking] women or children,” he said.