The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Wednesday arrested Rappler CEO Maria Ressa for cyber libel over an article published on the news website in May 2012, months before the anti-cybercrime law was enacted.
NBI agents served the arrest warrant, issued by Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 on Tuesday, at the Rappler headquarters in Pasig City.
The case stems from a cyber libel complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng against Ressa and former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos for running a story—“CJ using SUVs of ‘controversial’ businessmen”—supposedly linking him to human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Acting on Keng's complaint, the NBI transmitted its findings to the DOJ, which indicted Ressa and Santos for violation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 last month.
Rappler CEO Maria Ressa has met with the officers serving an arrest warrant against her in the company’s office. She is waiting for her lawyer, per a Rappler reporter present. @gmanews pic.twitter.com/HwcOLMN5FD— Nicole-Anne Lagrimas (@nclagrimas) February 13, 2019
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who earlier claimed he had no information about the warrant, said: "This is simply procedural. Ms. Ressa may post bail anytime, even before the warrant is served."
Asked if there was an open court where Ressa could post bail Wednesday evening, Guevarra said he thinks so. Ressa was arrested after office hours, when most courts had closed for the day.
"Itong warrant na ito ay in-issue February 12 mula sa Branch 46 ng Manila... ang nakalagay dito, dalawa ang warrant, isa kay Maria Ressa at kay Reynaldo Santos, yung sumulat ng article," said Chay Hofileña, head of Rappler's investigative department in a dzBB interview.
Hofileña said Ressa will be accompanied by her lawyer in going to the NBI headquarters in Manila.
Rappler briefly livestreamed the incident on Facebook, where Ressa could be seen speaking with the NBI agents.
"Arrest warrant being served right now vs Rappler CEO @mariaressa. An officer part of the serving party prohibiting Rappler employees, including @reyaika, from taking photos and videos inside the office," said Rappler on its official Twitter account.
Rappler's Miriam Grace Go questioned the timing of the serving of the arrest warrant.
"NBI agents slip into our building at 5 pm (you know what that cutoff time means) to serve arrest warrant vs @rapplerdotcom CEO @mariaressa. They tell us to stop taking videos. We won't," she said.
Ressa, in a prior counter-affidavit, had said the one-year prescriptive period for libel had expired by the time Keng filed his complaint. She also argued the law she was accused of violating was not in place at the time the article in question was published.
However, while it agreed the article was not covered by the law when it was first posted, the DOJ said "we cannot share the same view with respect to the 19 February 2014 publication"— the updated version.
"Under the 'multiple publication rule,' a single defamatory statement, if published several times, gives rise to as many offenses as there are publications," the DOJ said.
Ressa is also facing tax-related cases before the Court of Tax Appeals and the Pasig Regional Trial Court. She has already posted bail for these other cases. —MDM/NB, GMA News