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Duterte’s Out to Silence Critics and Curtail Free Speech

Kelvene Requiroso

Posted on February 15, 2019 21:35

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Maria Ressa’s arrest only reinforces the fact that Duterte’s out to silence critics and curtail free speech. It also sends a chilling message to journalists around the world that governments can do almost anything, including reviving old cases against reporters and publishers doing their jobs.

Maria Ressa, founder and CEO of Rappler, an online media outfit that champions free press and investigative reporting, was arrested on Wednesday for doing her job. Her arrest shows how Rodrigo Duterte’s government can stoop so low just to silence critics and independent media.

Duterte washed his hands from having a hand on Ressa’s arrest saying, “I do not relish picking on her. I’m out of it.” But it cannot be denied that in the last couple of years he used government resources to harass, intimidate, and threaten Rappler because of its work exposing government anomalies, producing counter-narratives to the brutal drug war, and publishing reports and opinion pieces critical of Duterte’s administration.

On February 13, the arresting officers of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) served the court warrant and escorted Ressa out of the newsroom into the agency’s headquarters. An NBI agent reportedly intimidated Rappler reporter Aika Rey telling her, “If we see our faces on the net, you’ll be sorry. You’ve been warned. We’ll go after you.”

The expected arrest of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year (2018) was a calculated move by Duterte’s government. However, it was based on absurd grounds -- an obscure cyber libel case filed against Rappler based on a May 2012 report about a certain Wilfredo Keng who was linked to a disgraced former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

The cybercrime law was enacted on September 12, 2012. It does not cover Rappler’s case since there can be no case in any court in the absence of a law.

But, in need of a distraction from public attention on the true state of the nation -- dwindling economy, corruption, inefficiency, and failures -- Duterte’s government flexed its muscle to single out Ressa and Rappler and attempted to cover its tracks by using the cyber libel case.

Ressa has faced tax cases and alleged violation of the anti-dummy law and has already posted bail twice on manufactured tax evasion charges.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo and other Duterte minions in government and Congress gladly sang the chorus “no one is above the law,” and that everyone can be arrested if they violate the country’s statutes. But their argument is absurdly head-scratching because if no one was above the law, Duterte’s allies who have had criminal and plunder cases in the courts would be in jail right now. This selective justice is aimed at critics, political opponents, women, the poor, and helpless children.

Ressa posted bail and was released the next day but her arrest only reinforced the fact that Duterte’s out to silence critics and curtail free speech. It is not only an affront to freedom of speech but it also sends a chilling message to journalists around the world that governments can do anything, including manufacturing evidence and reviving old cases against reporters and publishers doing their jobs, a game Duterte has played masterfully even before he was president.

Kelvene Requiroso

Posted on February 15, 2019 21:35

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Maria Ressa is the CEO of Rappler, which is critical of Rodrigo Duterte's government.

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