News

March 28, 2019 - Updated on March 29, 2019

Another spurious charge against embattled Philippine website

A demonstrator protests against press freedom violations on 14 February, the day after Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa’s arrest (photo: Ted Aljibe / AFP).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the trumped-up charges that were brought yesterday against Maria Ressa, the executive editor of the Philippine news website Rappler, and against her managing editor and five members of the website’s 2016 board.

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Update

Abroad at the time of the events, Maria Ressa was arrested Friday morning at her arrival at Manilla Airport, in the Philippines. She was brought before a court a couple of hours later, before being released on bail. 

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In this, the latest in a seemingly inexorable series of judicial proceedings against Rappler and its staff, Maria Ressa and her colleagues were accused of violating the anti-dummy law, which bans foreign ownership of Philippine media outlets – an accusation that is not based on any established fact.

 

Yesterday’s charges were brought before the regional court in the Manila suburb of Prasig by the Prasig prosecutor’s office.

 

“The judicial harassment of Rappler by various government agencies is bordering on the absurd,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

 

“In all, the website and its journalists are currently the targets of proceedings in at least 11 cases, each as spurious as the other. Against the government’s manipulation of the judicial system with the aim of silencing troublesome media outlets, Rappler stands as pillar of democracy to be defended at all cost.”

 

As well as Ressa, the other persons charged yesterday were managing editor Glenda M. Gloria and five members of the website’s 2016 board: Felicia Atienza, Manuel Ayala, James Bitanga, Nico Jose Nolledo and James Velasquez.

 

Relentless war

 

The charges are based on a Securities and Exchange Commission decision in January 2018 to revoke Rappler’s licence on the grounds that it was not totally Philippine owned. The claim did not stand up to scrutiny, as RSF demonstrated at the time in its Media Ownership Monitor report on Philippine media ownership.

 

The SEC decision was the first assault in an unrelenting war that President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has waged against Rappler, a symbol of journalistic freedom and independence. It has included a ban of Rappler reporters in the presidential palace, tax evasion accusations, and a defamation charge under a law that did not exist at the time of the alleged offence. In their attempts to intimidate the website’s journalists, the authorities even went so far as to detain Ressa in February.

 

The Philippines is ranked 133rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.