MANILA: “This is not the Philippines I knew,” said Maria Ressa, CEO and executive editor of news website Rappler, after being released on bail hours after her arrest on Friday.
Ressa, a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, was arrested on arrival at Ninoy Aquino International Airport over an anti-dummy case filed on Thursday at the Pasig Regional Trial Court against her and several other Rappler executives.
It is the second time Ressa has been arrested in just over one month.
In February, Ressa spent one night in detention at the National Bureau of Investigation for a cyber libel case.
Speaking to reporters shortly after her release, having posted $1,700 bail, Ressa said: “I think one of the things we need to step up and admit is that the press in this country is under attack.”
Ressa, who was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018, added that it was the seventh time she had posted bail and the second time she has been arrested.
“It’s obviously clear I am not a travel risk. I came home even after the new charges were laid out and the arrest warrant was issued,” she said, adding: “It’s a sad day for me.”
Her arrest, along with warrants issued to other Rappler execs, she said, is a bad signal to send to the rest of the world.
“The fact that the government continues to try to label us as criminals is itself criminal,” she declared.
“Every action takes us further into a descent to tyranny. This is the weaponization of the law.”
The current charge against Ressa for violation of the country’s anti-dummy law — designed to ensure that the Philippines’ foreign-equity limitations are enforced — and the Securities Regulation Code is the seventh court case brought against Ressa, and the 11th against Rappler overall.
“All of these cases have been in the last year and a few months, and except for the cyber libel, (they) all stemmed from one event, which is Omidyar Network’s investment in the Philippines Depositary Receipts,” Ressa explained, adding that Rappler would fight each case in court.
In a statement, Rappler said a pattern of harassment against the organization started in January 2018, when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued an order revoking its license, and has not stopped. The Court of Appeals has since ordered the SEC to reevaluate its decision.
“Now it casts a wider net to go beyond Maria Ressa and target other members of the Rappler Board,” the statement read.
Asked what she thought of her arrest at the airport, Ressa said: “It’s shocking that after a 14-hour flight — and I have committed no crime, I’m certainly not a flight risk — I’m (met) by police who will take me.”
The Philippines, she emphasized, is a democracy under a constitution, and has a bill of rights.
Ressa said she hopes that the men and women of the judiciary will stand by the spirit of the constitution.