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‘Fear more if press is silenced’ — Poe

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Sen. Grace Poe. INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO / CATHY MIRANDA

MANILA, Philippines — A free press helps guard government institutions, and attempts to silence and intimidate watchdogs may have a chilling effect on press freedom, Sen. Grace Poe warned on Thursday.

“I think that we should fear more if the press is silenced because it is really through the freedom of speech that we are able to guard the different institutions of government; that we are also able to uphold democracy in our country,” Poe said, a day after Rappler chief executive Maria Ressa was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) over a cyberlibel case.

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Ressa’s arrest stemmed from a story that was published in May 2012, four months before the enactment of the Cybercrime Law. The online news site, highly critical of the Duterte administration, was also the subject of a tax evasion case.

Global media groups and human rights watchdogs slammed the latest blow to Rappler, saying it was an attempt to stifle press freedom in the country.

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Poe meanwhile said she was “puzzled” with the arrest but also hoped that “that the courts will follow and observe the right process because it is enshrined in our Constitution that we should protect press freedom.”

“Without going through the merits of the case, I am praying that the courts will continue to be fair and objective and will not forget the safeguards, not just for press freedom, but for individual freedoms,” Poe said at the sidelines of a transport event in Manila.

Poe, who chairs the Senate public information and mass media committee, said authorities should clear the issues about the purported unfair treatment on Rappler.

Asked about the NBI’s attempt to stop reporters from covering the arrest and taking videos, the lawmaker pointed out that it was not an ongoing police investigation that would endanger the life of anybody.

Ressa was arrested past 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday by elements of the NBI. She stayed the night at the NBI before she was allowed to post bail on Thursday.

READ: Court orders arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa

The Department of Justice earlier green-lighted the filing of cyberlibel case against Ressa in relation to the complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng.

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Keng was the subject of an article titled “CJ using SUVs of controversial businessman” — “CJ” referring to then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was then under an impeachment trial.

The businessman denied the article and compelled the online news site to take it down.

Ressa had argued that she could not be accused of cyberlibel because the law was not yet in effect when the story in question was published on May 29, 2012. The Cybercrime Act was enacted into law on Sept. 12, 2012, and took effect only on Oct. 3 of the same year. /je

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