Manila, Philippines—Maria Ressa, the executive editor of Rappler, an online news portal in the Philippines, and a known critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, was arrested when she alighted from a plane at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 on Friday morning, March 29. She has been charged with violating the anti-dummy law.
This is the second time this year that Ms Ressa has been arrested.
Policemen from the city of Pasig were waiting for Ms Ressa at the airport and served her a warrant of arrest as soon as she arrived from San Francisco. A warrant of arrest against Ms Ressa had been issued on Thursday, March 28.
As she and her lawyer were escorted to the police vehicle, she told the press that she would be posting bail immediately. For the Anti-Dummy Law offense, Ms Ressa is required to pay bail of P90,000 (US $1,716).
The warrant against Ms Ressa read, “To any officer of the law, you are hereby commanded to arrest the person Maria Angelita Ressa who is to be found at (address redacted) or elsewhere and who stand charged before me of the crime of violation of Section 2-A of Commonwealth Act No. 108 or the Anti-Dummy Law.”
It was signed by Judge Acerey Pacheco.
On Wednesday, March 27, Ms Ressa’s co-defendants paid the same amount in bail even though no warrant had been issued at that point since defendants are allowed to post bail before the issuance of a warrant.
Ms Ressa was out of the country when the charges were filed against her.
She and her co-defendants have also been charged with one count each of violating the Securities Regulation Code and the Anti-Dummy Law. Bail for this charge was set at P128,000 (US $2,441) each, which none of the defendants have paid for as yet.
The Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) lodged a complaint claiming Rappler had violated the Anti-Dummy Law for issuing Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) to foreign investor Omidyar Network.
In 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) endeavored to close Rappler down over questions of foreign ownership.
Ms Ressa and Rappler now face seven active court cases, though there have been a total of 11 cases filed against Rappler, its directors, and staff since January 2018.
The journalist was among Time Magazine Persons of the Year in 2018.
Human rights groups in the Philippines claim that the charges against Ms Ressa is an attempt to shut Rappler for its in-depth reporting on the extra-judicial killings that have been the result of President Duterte’s war on drugs.
According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Rappler “has clearly become the whipping boy of the Duterte administration as it seeks to silence and intimidate the independent and critical press.”
A Human Rights Watch Asia Division researcher, Carlos Conde, said, “This case against Ressa and members of her board is unprecedented and speaks volumes of the Duterte administration’s determination to shut the website down for its credible and consistent reporting on the government, particularly the ‘drug war.’ The administration has shown a relentlessness in its persecution of government critics unseen since the time of the Marcos dictatorship.”
Ms Ressa was well aware that police officers would be waiting for her at the airport, having been told by her lawyers that she should expect to be taken into custody upon landing in Manila.
In February, she was arrested on cyber-libel charges and was detained overnight.
The latest charges against the editor in chief of Rappler were filed when she was in the US on a travel bond for her other charges.
Rappler called the latest arrest part of a “pattern of harassment against Rappler that started in January 2018.”