US urges Philippines to let Maria Ressa ‘operate freely’

Maria Ressa

USA on Friday admonished the Philippines to swiftly resolve a case against detained journalist Maria Ressa and permit her and her news site Rappler to “operate freely.”

A State Department spokesperson stated the US was “concerned” about the detention of the prominent critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and called out on the Philippines to esteem freedom of the press.

“The freedom of expression is a cornerstone of any truly democratic society and a fundamental freedom recognized by both the United States and the Philippines,” the spokesperson stated. “Maria Ressa is a highly respected and experienced journalist.”

“We hope these charges will be resolved quickly, in a way that fully respects the freedom of expression, allows Ms. Ressa and Rappler to continue to operate freely, and is consistent with the Philippines’ tradition of a free and independent press.” He added.

Ms. Ressa was re-detained earlier this Friday after arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on charges that she and her colleagues at Rappler violated rules on foreign ownership of media. They were released on bail Friday afternoon.

She was also describing her second arrest and her seventh time to post bail in over a month as a nuisance.

“I will not run away from any of these charges because I want to mark every single action the Philippine government takes,” she stated. “It shows you how intolerant of journalists this government is.”

City of Pasig prosecutors had accused Ressa and Rappler executives Manuel Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Glenda Gloria, James Bitangca, Felicia Atienza, and James Velasquez for alleged violation of the anti-dummy law.

They were accused of irreverent constitutional requirements for mass media to be a 100-percent Filipino owned corporation.

Rappler’s incorporation certificate was rescinded in January 2018 because it allowed foreign-owned Omidyar Network to hold Philippine Depositary receipts (PDRs).

The Philippines, under the anti-dummy law, forbids foreigners from intervening in the management, operation, administration, or control of any nationalized activity.

Ressa was first detained in February at Rappler’s headquarters in Pasig City over a cyber libel case. She’s also facing multiple counts of tax evasion.

The Palace, on its part, upheld that the courts and police were acting according to the law.

““All are equal before the law. She wants to be treated differently. That cannot be done,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo stated at that time.

Media group National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) criticized Ressa’s arrest, citing “Rappler has clearly become the whipping boy of the Duterte administration as it seeks to silence or intimidate the independent and critical press.”

US President Donald Trump shares sentiments on Duterte’s aversion toward media coverage and has even voiced admiration for him, but the rest of the US government has generally still advocated freedom of the press.

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