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Groups say Duterte administration out to silence critical media

The arrest of Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa over a cyber libel case was a display of the Duterte administration's effort to "keep a free and inquisitive media out of its way," Tess Bacalla, executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

“The unrelenting harassment of the social news network, the latest indubitable demonstration of which is its beleaguered founder having just been served a warrant of arrest after office hours, belies all pretense of upholding press freedom by an administration that has from the get-go shown its abhorrence of an independent and critical press,” Bacalla said in a statement.

In a separate statement, Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers said the arrest was an "attack on press freedom and speech."

"Stripped of its legal trappings and judicial clothing, this arrest over questionable charges that have been excavated are essentially undisguised attacks on press freedom and speech," Olalia said.

"Together with orchestrated cyber-attacks and subtle blackmail on multimedia, this is not only effective censorship but practically prior restraint," he added.

Olalia said the incident showed that whoever who will dissent or criticize will be "in the crosshairs of government's whole coercive apparatus," whether one is a senator, nun, lawyer activist, human rights defender, or peace advocate.

Amnesty International condemned the arrest, which it said was based on "trumped up" libel charge.

"This is brazenly politically motivated, and consistent with the authorities’ threats and repeated targeting of Ressa and her team. Authorities should end this harassment, drop the charges, and repeal this repressive law," Amnesty International Philippines section director Butch Olano said.

“In a country where justice takes years to obtain, we see the charges against Maria Ressa railroaded, and the law being used to relentlessly intimidate and harass journalists for doing their jobs as truth-tellers," he added.—LDF, GMA News