Maria Ressa not 'above the law,' says Palace

Sun.Star Pampanga - - NATION! -

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)

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