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Philippines

Journalist and Duterte Critic Arrested Upon Landing at Manila Airport

This is Maria Ressa's second arrest this year.

by Mustika Hapsoro
29 March 2019, 11:44am

Maria Ressa waves to journalists after posting bail outside a court building in Manila on Friday, March 29. Photo by MARIA TAN / AFP

Prominent critic of Rodrigo Duterte's regime, Maria Ressa, has been released on bail after being detained for the second time this year, in what seems to be an attempt to further intimidate critics and journalists.

Earlier today, the senior journalist and founder of Rappler media was arrested at the Ninoy Aquino International airport on a fraud charge. She was released hours later after posting a P90,000 ($1,700 USD) bail.

Ressa and five other Rappler board members and editors are accused of violating foreign ownership rules and securities fraud. The allegations claim that Ressa and her associates, through a bond sale in 2015, have allowed foreigners to intervene in its operations. Under the country’s constitution, media is an economic sector reserved for Filipinos or Filipino-controlled entities. Rappler has denied the allegations.

The five others posted bail on Wednesday, ahead of issuance of warrants of arrest. Ressa was abroad when the charges were filed.

In February, Ressa was detained in relation to a cyber libel case that was related to an article she published in May 2012. Initially, the charges were dismissed by the National Bureau of Investigations because the piece was written before the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 came into effect. However, the charges were revived due to the fact that the article was updated in 2014 and came under the law’s jurisdiction. After spending a night in detention, Ressa was released on P100,000 ($1,900 USD) bail.

At the time of her first arrest, Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said that the arrest had nothing to do with freedom of the press, but just a procedure to a possible violation that she committed. “No one is above the law, not even high profile, self-anointed crusading journalists,” he said, as quoted by Bloomberg.

Rappler remains to be one of the few national media companies in the Philippines committed to shedding a critical light on Duterte’s regime. Ever since taking office, Duterte’s bloody war on drugs has claimed thousands of lives. Those who have spoken against the strongman have been imprisoned or pushed out of their jobs in government, including the country’s former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Ressa has insisted that Rappler is not anti-Duterte, saying it's just doing its job to hold the government accountable. However, Duterte has dismissed the website calling it “fake news” and regularly attacks the news outlet in his comments.

This is the seventh court case against Ressa , and the 11th case overall against Rappler, since January 2018.