Magicked crime
LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - February 17, 2019 - 12:00am

Maria Ressa's arrest is troubling on so many levels.

Legal scholars whose opinions I've browsed through have been unanimous in proclaiming bafflement. How could Ressa be indicted for a crime that did not exist at the time she allegedly committed it? The law creating the crime of cyber libel was only passed a few months after publication of the alleged libelous article. So when (also if) she committed the crime, there was no such legal animal yet.

To now accuse (as well as indict) her for breaking the law is to commit a legal impossibility. That is retroacting the application of a criminal law, which our Constitution prohibits. Yes, dearie, there is a Constitutional provision. It says very clearly: “No ex post facto law...shall be enacted.”

Now some smart alecks might say the Cybercrime Prevention Act doesn't expressly make illegal those acts that have already been committed, and therefore no ex post facto law has been enacted. Sure, it doesn't, but that still doesn't justify the acts of the Department of Justice in proceeding and acting as if the criminal law already existed at publication time. That would be splitting hairs, and any decent judge would be quick to dismiss the distinctions attempted to be drawn.

Another sleight of hand is the argument that even if the article was posted before the law, it was corrected for grammar after the law was passed. Hence, the libelous article was “republished,” and that republication is the real target of the prosecution. (I can imagine more hate being directed towards grammar Nazis because of this.)

That leads me to the next troubling episode. Ressa attempted to post bail, but her attempt was rejected by the judge on duty. Hence, she had to spend the night at the NBI headquarters. The judge was reported to have been apprehensive about overstepping his jurisdiction, as he was "only" an MeTC judge, as opposed to the Regional Trial Court judge who issued the arrest warrant.

It’s sad when our rights to liberty and to bail are trampled by concerns on jurisdiction. It's also sad our judicial officers are disempowered from exercising constitutional duties and defending constitutional rights because of turf concerns.

It's practically lamentable, even when our government is unable to put in place a ready system for addressing the exercise of constitutional rights by arrested individuals anytime they need it. Why the neglect to have judges with the proper ranks, authorities, or mandates on duty during evenings? Is it because only criminals like robbers and rapists are arrested at night, and they need to spend a night in jail to sober up?

Funny how a person needing a burger can call a hotline 24/7, while a person facing deprivation of fundamental rights like liberty and due process will have to wait until the next morning to reach a judge. (And let's not forget, that's after being able to wake up and hire a lawyer.)

The executive branch is holding its hands up, claiming it had nothing to do with the funny circumstances surrounding the arrest. The president is quoted saying: "Oh my, far from it actually. I do not relish picking on her. I'm out of it."

Taking this to be the case, it would be wonderful for the president to peer into all the legal gymnastics and judicial antics that could have possibly been employed to allow this charade. How could the specious arguments and forced judicial constructs have been allowed? What forces and resources were deployed?

Nip this sorcerous piece of theater in the bud. Do not allow harassment or intimidation of the free press. Foil the magicians. As Ressa says, hold the line.



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