National Press Club: Ressa arrest 'smacks of bad taste,' but not harassment

The National Press Club was founded in 1952 to to "uphold the freedom of the press and the dignity of the newspaperman's profession." National Press Club website

National Press Club: Ressa arrest 'smacks of bad taste,' but not harassment

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - February 15, 2019 - 12:57pm

MANILA, Philippines — The National Press Club said the arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa after government office hours was done in "bad taste," but cautioned against "politicizing" the issue.

In a statement posted by state-run media PTV4, the NPC expressed dismay over the manner of Ressa's arrest, done late Wednesday afternoon, over a cyberlibel charge.

The press club pointed out that the National Bureau of Investigation served the warrant at the close of office hours, which, it said “smacks of bad taste.” It said the NBI "could have served the warrant much earlier, if it wanted to,"

Government agents arrived at the Rappler office around 5 p.m., when regular courts had already closed. While Ressa’s libel charge is bailable, her lawyers failed to find a court that was still open and could accommodate her bail.

NBI Cybercrime Division chief Victor Lorenzo, to explain the timing of the arrest, said that they received the warrant at noon on Tuesday and had to attend to “logistical and operational requirements” before they could serve the order.

RELATED: 'Not illegal' for media to record arrests, Justice chief saysDOJ to look into NBI agent's alleged intimidation of reporter

The NPC called on law enforcement agencies and other agencies of the executive branch to review implementation of an agreement with the Department of the Interior and Local Government that service of arrest warrants for libel by the Philippine National Police should be done in coordination with the press club.

'No political harassment'

The press club also warned against  injecting politics into the case, as it pointed out that it is not uncommon for a member of the press to face a libel suit.

"Despite the manner by which Ms. Ressa was arrested however, the NPC takes exemption [sic] to the position by some quarters that the incident is another act of political harassment by the government against its critics," the press club said.

RELATED: Wilfredo Keng sees vindication in fight vs ‘irresponsible media’

It said that "to inject something that is not there and thus politicize a strictly judicial process" between two private parties "does not and will not serve the end of justice."

Ressa’s case, the NPC said, may be a “great ‘inconvenience,’” but "not something that should relegate [sic] someone to the altar of press freedom for ‘martyrdom.’"

It added: “Transforming this incident into a political circus in pursuit of vested political and ideological interests is to encourage everyone’s disrespect for the law and with it, to increase the risk of greater violence against the media.”

NPC's statement is in contrast with those of other local and international press groups, some officials of government and the academe who have said the arrest is part of a government attack on dissent and is a threat to freedom of the press.

Previous statements from press groups

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility noted how the arrest was made after office hours to prevent Ressa from making bail, which it said, shows the administration's "malice and manipulation of law."

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines on Thursday morning said the arrest “this latest legal stratagem threatens the freedom of the press all of us have fought for and will always defend.”

It said its members "will always stand against any move, explicit or otherwise, that is designed to undermine the freedoms that are a lifeline to truly free, relevant and courageous journalism."

The Photojournalists' Center of the Philippines said in a separate statement that the government's application of the Cybercrime Prevention Act for a story published before its enactment "is an indication of the lengths it will go to silence criticism."

The group said it "stands by its colleagues in Rappler and other media outfits facing threats, harassment, and intimidation."

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has called the charge against Ressa a “shameless act of persecution by a bully government.”

READ: Press groups: Ressa arrest is 'malice, manipulation of the law' | Leni Robredo, groups hit Maria Ressa’s arrest

Ressa, now out on bail, said her arrest was "abuse of power" and "a weaponization of the law."

The libel case follows the Securities and Exchange Commission's revocation of the online news site’s license in January 2018. Ressa also faces five tax-related cases that stemmed from the SEC's finding that Rappler had violated a constitutional ban on the foreign ownership of media.

Rappler has questioned the SEC's decision at the Court of Appeals, which remanded the case to the SEC after after the Omidyar Network donated its Philippine Depositary Receipts to the news site's Filipino managers.

RELATED: National Press Club sees no repression in revoked Rappler registration

President Rodrigo Duterte has lambasted Rappler and other media agencies, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN, for their “biased” reporting against his government.

READ: Timeline: How the Rappler case developed

The Rappler CEO said Thursday that it was her sixth time to post bail in the past two months.

Indignation rallies set 

NUJP and Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity will hold a "Black Friday" protest in Quezon City on Friday evening.

De La Salle University and the Ateneo de Manila University are also holding assemblies in their respective campuses in solidarity with the call to protect press freedom.


READ: A look at the cyber libel charge vs Rappler, Maria Ressa

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