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‘Truth will set you free’: Schools hit arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa

Sofia Tomacruz

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‘Truth will set you free’: Schools hit arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa

Martin San Diego

(4th UPDATE) Ateneo de Manila University president Father Ramon Jose Villarin, De La Salle Philippines president Brother Armin Luistro, and UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan issue statements of support

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – University leaders and student groups slammed the arrest of Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa on Wednesday night, February 13, saying schools must defend the truth and press freedom.

Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) president Father Ramon Jose Villarin and De La Salle Philippines president Brother Armin Luistro urged the universities’ communities to speak out and defend democracy.

“The University shares Maria’s challenge to shine the light on power and be brave in witnessing to the truth. Veritas liberabit vos (The truth will set you free),” Villarin said.

“Lies and false promises of unbridled power, when met with silence, will only make us a nation of slaves,” he added.

Luistro urged Lasallians to “vote with their feet” in the upcoming 2019 elections and make their voices heard to defend press freedom.

In a statement Friday, Feburary 15 University of the Philippines (UP) Chancellor Michael Tan said Ressa’s arrest showed the “continuing deterioration of civil liberties in the Philippines.”

“We will speak up when there is a flexing of judicial muscle to intimidate, and to stifle dissent,” he said.

Ressa was arrested in connection with a cyber libel case filed by the justice department.

Around 5 pm on Wednesday, officers from the National Bureau of Investigation clad in civilian clothes went to the Rappler headquarters to serve the warrant of arrest. (READ: Rappler statement on Maria Ressa’s arrest: ‘We will continue to tell the truth’)

The UP Diliman Student Council and ADMU publication The Guidon denounced the arrest, saying students will continue to hold the line with Ressa and Rappler.

Below are the statements of support from various schools:

Brother Armin Luistro FSC, president of De La Salle Philippines 

“Let’s give our all out support as Lasallians to Rappler. Let’s defend press freedom. Let’s make our voices heard. Let’s vote with our feet and stand with Maria Ressa!”

Father Jose Ramon Villarin SJ, president of Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU)

In my statement of 13 October 2017, I had occasion to “call on everyone in the community to defend our democratic institutions” and to state that “[t]his call to defend our democratic institutions is not even a matter of political partisanship or persuasion. It is a call that is borne out of our conviction about what is right and just and truly democratic.”

While such pronouncements then pertained to government institutions in particular, the same should be said with regard to freedom of speech, of expression and of the press. No less than the Philippine Constitution recognizes “the vital role of communication and information in nation-building” (Constitution, Art. II. Sec. 24) and “the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press” (Constitution, Art. III, Sec. 4).

There are several rights and freedoms necessary for a democratic society to function. The right to life, the right to due process, the sweet freedoms of speech and of the press – all of these were once considered sacred, inviolable. But as of late these have been called into question; mocked, attacked, degraded.

Rappler, and its brave leader Maria Ressa, have consistently held the line against the erosion of these liberties. It is journalists like her who keep us all informed about the state of our nation, covering different areas of our national life, contributing immeasurably to the wealth and value of our country. Too often these days, it is they who wage daily battles against fake news, expose corruption and bring to light illegal practices and wrongdoing by those who lead us.

We all say we want the truth. It is easy to say we want the whole truth, but we easily forget how difficult it is to find and convey the truth and we do little to defend those of us who put their careers, reputations and lives on the line to give us truth.

Thus, the University expresses alarm over both, on the one hand, the filing of tax evasion charges against Rappler and the concomitant process of the need to arrest her (without prejudice to securing liberty through bail), and on the other, the filing of cyber libel charges against her and a researcher and their being actually arrested. The tax charge stems from a complicated legal theory that Rappler is not a news organization and is instead a dealer in securities. In turn, the cyber libel charge is for an article that was published before the passage of the law which punishes the act charged against them. Beyond the legal arguments is government’s troubling practice of silencing critics through the filing of questionable cases. The pattern of political persecution casts a chilling effect on legitimate opposition and criticism.

As a university, we are committed to using our resources as educators to make the truth come to light. As citizens, it is our obligation to defend the truth. In an atmosphere of fear and silence, we are obliged to speak when we see things which are not right, even if doing so can bring individuals and institutions to peril. Speaking truth can be daunting but the greater imperative is to stand our ground against those who sow fear when the truth is spoken.

In 2015, Maria Ressa was our Loyola Schools commencement speaker. She reminded our graduates that, “Power does corrupt, and the way we hold it accountable is to shine the light. We need to see the way things really work, the corrupted values that make wrong seem right… Do not accept the world you see today.”

“Do not accept the world you see today.” The University shares Maria’s challenge to shine the light on power and be brave in witnessing to the truth. Veritas liberabit vos. As God is our witness, we believe that the truth does lead to freedom. The lies and false promises of unbridled power, when met with silence, will only make us a nation of slaves.

UP Diliman College of Mass Communication

The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP-CMC) condemns the latest attack on freedom of speech and of the press by the government.

The early evening arrest of Rappler’s CEO and Editor-in-Chief Maria Ressa shows a clear intent to harass and intimidate. In true martial law era fashion, the arrest warrant was served after office hours preventing the journalist from immediately filing bail.

We call on the public to protect our fundamental right for a free press. For many years, the UP-CMC, through its Journalism Department, has fought for the decriminalization of the libel law, which has time and again been used to harass and threaten journalists, who are merely doing their work by reporting the truth.

The current administration’s intolerance of diverse and critical voices shows its low regard for and observance of democratic principles.

A free press is fundamental to a democratic society. A free press serves as a faithful chronicler of contemporary events, a platform for a multiplicity of voices to be heard, and, more important, the public’s watchdog of inept, abusive and corrupt governance. Its effectiveness lies in its ability to seek out and report news/information and hold those in power to account. With the same effort with which the press should seek the truth and report it, any attempt to muzzle its ability to do so should be vigorously resisted.

In a Facebook post Monday, February 18, UP Diliman Journalism Department Chair Rachel Khan said the Diliman University Council joined voices to condemn Ressa’s arrest. The University Council decided to formally adopt the UP-CMC’s statement.

UP Diliman Student Council

ADMU student publication ‘The Guidon’

The University of Santo Tomas (UST) Journalism Society

Ateneo Law school student publication ‘The Palladium’

College of Saint Benilde artists collective ‘Panday Sining’

De La Salle University student publication ‘The LaSallian’

UST Alliance for student service 

Far Eastern University Department of Communication

UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan

The arrest of much-awarded journalist Maria Ressa, editor of the popular online news outlet Rappler, reflects the continuing deterioration of civil liberties in the Philippines.

Rappler has published many no-holds barred stories about human rights violations, particularly the extrajudicial killings in President Duterte’s war on drugs.

Ressa’s arrest should be seen as an assault on press freedom, conducted in the evening, when she could not obtain legal relief. Fortunately, she was able to post bail a few hours later.

In 2017, the government accused Rappler and Ressa of being foreign-owned leading to the Securities and Exchange Commission filing charges, but the case was thrown out by a Court of Appeals. Next were charges of tax evasion, a case for which Ressa was arrested last year. The case is still pending.

The cyber libel charge was filed in connection with a Rappler article published in 2012 alleging connections between Filipino businessman Wilfredo Keng and then Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was going through impeachment proceedings. Keng filed a defamation lawsuit against Ressa in 2017. Now, the Department of Justice has allowed the case to be revived, using a cyber libel law that was passed four months after the Rappler article was published.

Ressa has been released on a P100,000 bail, leading her to comment: “This is the sixth time that I have posted bail. . . I will pay more bail than lmelda Marcos.”

We must make our voices heard, to uphold the rule of law. As a university that teaches law, we must let government know we are keeping watch. We will speak up when there is a flexing of judicial muscle to intimidate, and to stifle dissent.

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.