Arrest warrant vs Ressa shows gov’t using law to ‘bludgeon’ truth

Mara Cepeda
Arrest warrant vs Ressa shows gov’t using law to ‘bludgeon’ truth
Key opposition figures say the Duterte government continues to harass news organizations whose reporting it dislikes

MANILA, Philippines – Key figures in the opposition slammed the warrant of arrest issued against  Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC) president Maria Ressa for alleged Tax Code violation, saying the government is using the law to oppress its critics.

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said on Monday, December 3, that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is using the law to go after its enemies. 

“The use of the strong arm of the law to go after Maria Ressa and Rappler is alarming but not surprising. From the time this administration took power, it has used every means, fair or foul, to go after those it perceives to be its enemies,” said Diokno, who is also running for senator in 2019.

“The law, to them, is just another instrument to bludgeon and neutralize those who dare to speak the truth to power,” he added.

Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin also condemnned the arrest warrant against Ressa.

“The arrest warrant issued against Maria Ressa is a sure sign that the Duterte administration wants to throw this country into obscurity and darkness. Harassing journalists and putting critics to jail are the refuge of fascists and scoundrels,” said Villarin.

“I stand with Maria Ressa and Rappler against this obnoxious tax evasion case,” he added.

Rappler, Ressa face 5 tax cases

Ressa posted bail of P60,000 on Monday after the court found probable cause that RHC, the holding company of Rappler Incorporated, supposedly failed to supply correct information in its Value Added Tax return for the second quarter of tax year 2015. 

The charge stemmed from RHC’s issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs), a mechanism that allows Filipino companies, including other media networks, to have foreign investments. Rappler Holdings issued PDRs in 2015 to foreign investor Omidyar Network Fund and North Base Media Rappler, L.P. Rappler and RHC are facing 4 other tax cases filed by the government.

In January 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered the revocation of Rappler’s license. The Court of Appeals, however, did not uphold the ruling, saying Omidyar’s donation of the PDRs to Rappler’s managers cured the issue. The CA then remanded the case to the SEC for review. (READ: DOCUMENT: Court of Appeals’ full decision on Rappler’s SEC case

Continued harassment vs media

Both Alliance of Concerned Teachers Antonio Tinio and Bayan Muna Carlos Zarate said the arrest warrant is part of the “ongoing persecution” of Rappler and other media organizations by the Duterte administration

“That’s just the latest development in the ongoing persecution of Rappler by Malacañang, by no less than the President himself…. So alam din natin na ‘di lang Rappler ang target ng Presidente mismo sa media. Tinarget ang Inquirer, ang ABS-CBN. So basta hindi gusto ni Pangulo ang reporting na ginagawa ng mga entites na ito, tina-target,” said Tinio.

(That’s just the latest development in the ongoing persecution of Rappler by Malacañang, by no less than the President himself…. So we know that the President is not just targetting Rappler. He has previously targeted Inquirer, ABS-CBN. So if the President does not like the reporting being done by these entities, he targets them.)

Zarate added that this is another case of the government attempting to weaken democratic institutions.

“Part ito ng continuing acts of the administration na pahinain talaga ‘yong mga democratic institutions — ‘yong media, korte, ‘yong Kongreso, Korte Suprema — at ‘yong ‘yong sinasabi natin na…tyrannical acts,” said Zarate.

(This is among the continuing acts of the administration to weaken our democratic institutions – the media, courts, Congress, Supreme Court – and these are what we call as…tyrannical acts.) 

Carlos Conde of Human Rights’ Watch also tagged the arrest warrant against Ressa as “politically motivated and part of the Duterte administration’s campaign to harass, threaten and intimidate critics.” 

“This is not surprising behavior by the administration but is nonetheless abominable. As we earlier said, the attacks on Rappler are consistent with the way the Duterte administration has treated other “drug war” critics such as Senator Leila de Lima,” said Conde

How about Imelda Marcos? 

Senator Risa Hontiveros said: “They exert ridiculous efforts to intimidate and even jail political dissenters while giving preferential treatment to the likes of Imelda Marcos, even going so far as to mask it as compassion. Mabagsik sa media at oposisyon, pero maamong tupa naman sa mga mandarambong.”

(They’re fierce toward the media and the opposition, but are like meek lambs toward plunderers.)

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.