Maria Ressa not 'above the law,' says Palace
RAPPLER chief executive officer Maria Ressa is not "above the law," Malacañang said on Thursday, February 14, after journalist groups and opposition branded her arrest as an assault on press freedom.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Duterte government respects the judiciary's independence in handling cases filed against any individuals, including Ressa.
Panelo emphasized that the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 merely issued an arrest order on Maria Ressa based on the "finding of probable cause" on the cyber liber case lodged against her.
"This administration has always respected the Judiciary on how it handles cases pending before its courts. We therefore refrain from interfering in its own present affairs," the Palace official said.
"We are a country of laws and every citizen must adhere to the rule of law. No one is above the law, not even high profile self-anointed crusading journalists. Whatever the outcome is, it must be respected by everyone for such is the law. This is how the rule of law works," he added.
Ressa was detained overnight at the National Bureau of Investigation's headquarters following her failure to post bail at a Pasay night court after the warrant was served on her at Rappler's newsroom in Pasay City.
Various journalist organizations and critics have believed that Ressa's arrest was politically motivated.
Panelo said the executive did not have a hand in the arrest of Ressa, whose news media outfit is persistently critical of the Duterte government.
"Ms. Ressa being a media practitioner and a high ranking officer of a media outfit critical of the President's programs and policies has nothing to do with the present circumstances she is currently in," the Palace official said.
"Freedom of expression, as critics of this administration erroneously suggest, is absolutely unrelated with Ms. Ressa’s probable violation of the country's laws. Ms. Ressa should, in fact, welcome this as an opportunity to defend herself and be heard before the court of law," he added.
Ressa's arrest stemmed from Rappler's 2012 article about businessman Wilfredo Keng.
Keng filed a cyber libel complaint against Ressa for publishing a "defamatory" article on May 29, 2012.
In a statement issued Thursday, Keng welcomed Ressa's arrest, saying he was "deeply grateful" that there was a progress on the case he filed against the Rappler chief.
Acknowledging that the arrest was just a start of a "long and arduous process," Keng was optimistic that he would be able to see the legal battle "to the very end."
"In the end, this story is not just about an ordinary suit filed by a private and hardworking citizen to clear his name. It is, in reality, a test case on how the Philippine legal and judicial system will fare against the dangerous precedent that is being set by one reckless and irresponsible member of the media and of the online community," he said.
"It is thus high time that we remember that the foundation of our independence, democracy and freedom is based on one simple truth: no one is above the law... May justice and truth continue to be on our side," Keng a d d e d . (Ruth Abbey Gita/SunStar Philippines)