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Editorial: Truth tellers under threat?

FOR this week’s editorial and for the sake of press freedom and our common and yet dangerous task of searching for the truth, we are reprinting the following dispatch by Rappler which also serves as the online news company’s statement on yesterday’s arrest of its editor, Maria Ressa: Rappler’s CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa was served an arrest warrant this afternoon, February 13, at the Rappler headquarters in connection with an alleged violation of the Philippines’ cybercrime law. At least 4 agents and lawyers from the National Bureau of Investigation Cybercrime Division came to serve the warrant signed by Manila Regional Trial Court Presiding Judge Rainelda H. Estacio-Montesa. The warrant dated February 12, 2019, was served close to 5 pm, when courts were about to close. A complaint was filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng 5 years after a story was published on May 29, 2012, or months before the cybercrime law was enacted. Our story said former chief justice Renato Corona used a vehicle registered under the name of Mr Keng, who, based on intelligence reports and previously published stories, had alleged links to illegal drugs and human trafficking. We called Mr Keng and got his side before the story was published. The filing of the case is preposterous and baseless. No less than NBI Cybercrime Division chief Manuel Eduarte closed an investigation in February 2018 after finding no basis to proceed, given that the one-year prescriptive period had lapsed. Eight days later, however, the NBI revived the case, and filed it with the Department of Justice on the basis of a theory they call “continuous publication.” This is a dangerous precedent that puts anyone – not just the media – who publishes anything online perennially in danger of being charged with libel. It can be an effective tool of harassment and intimidation to silence critical reporting on the part of the media. No one is safe. Maria Ressa was accused of cyber libel allegedly because she was the editor of the story that was published. She was not. If this is another of several attempts to intimidate us, it will not succeed, as past attempts have shown. Maria Ressa and Rappler will continue to do our jobs as journalists. We will continue to tell the truth and report what we see and hear. We are first and foremost journalists, we are truth tellers. As Ressa herself has said: “We are not intimidated. No amount of legal cases, black propaganda, and lies can silence Filipino journalists who continue to hold the line. These legal acrobatics show how far the government will go to silence journalists, including the pettiness of forcing me to spend the night in jail.”

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