Following the arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that no journalist will be harassed by baseless accusations while he's in charge.
"Do you think the DOJ [Department of Justice] will allow the NBI [National Bureau of Investigation] to file baseless charges for the purpose of harassing journalists? Not under my watch," Guevarra told GMA News Online in a text message.
NBI officers served an arrest warrant on Ressa for cyber libel after office hours on Wednesday, increasing the chance that she will stay in NBI custody until she can post bail when the courts reopen.
Ressa was at Rappler headquarters in Pasig City when NBI agents in civilian clothes arrived to serve the warrant, issued the day before by a judge in Manila.
One Rappler reporter, Aika Rey, said on Twitter that a member of the serving party tried to prohibit her from recording the events and threatened to go after her if she did not stop.
"He threatened that he will go after me if I don't stop recording. He started taking a video of me 'for being stubborn,'" she said in a tweet.
Lawyer Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of People's Lawyers, said that no law prohibits recording arrests. Guevarra, who declined to comment on the alleged threat, also said it is not illegal "unless the media interferes with the orderly conduct of the arrest."
The Justice chief also advised the media to "give enough space for law enforcers to do their job smoothly and efficiently."
Ressa has been brought to the NBI. She and a former reporter face cyber libel charges for a story that said an "intelligence report" links a businessman, Wilfredo Keng, to human trafficking and drug smuggling.
The story was first published in 2012—months before the Cybercrime Prevention Act was enacted—and updated in 2014.
In her filings before the DOJ, which indicted her last month, the veteran journalist said through lawyers that the one-year prescriptive period for libel had expired by the time Keng filed his complaint. She also said the anti-cybercrime law cannot be applied retroactively.
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 has called cases filed against Rappler acts of harassment. The company is also accused of tax evasion. Last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked its certificate of incorporation over an alleged violation of the foreign ownership restriction on mass media companies. — BM, GMA News