Rappler CEO Arrested on Anti-Dummy Law Charge

CMFR file photo

CMFR/ PHILIPPINES – Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa was arrested early morning today, 29 March 2019, on charges of violating the Philippine Anti-Dummy Law. She posted bail and was ordered released by a Pasig court past noon.

The Anti-Dummy Law penalizes any individual or corporation that circumvents Philippine restrictions on foreign equity. Foreign management, administration, operation or control of certain rights, privileges and franchises reserved solely for Filipino citizens, including mass media, is not allowed.

Ressa was served an arrest warrant by Pasig City police officers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1, right after her arrival from an overseas trip. Judge Acerey Pacheco of Pasig Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 265 issued the arrest warrant for Ressa yesterday, March 28.

The charges against Ressa and six other members of the Rappler’s Board of Directors are due to Rappler’s issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) to Omidyar Network, a foreign investor. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said this amounted to foreign control of the media organization, an act that is prohibited by the Philippine Constitution. Rappler says that PDRs are legal instruments, and that it is 100% Filipino-owned.

Ressa’s co-defendants are Glenda Gloria, Rappler’s managing editor; and Manuel Ayala, James Bitanga, Nico Jose Nolledo, James Velasquez and Felicia Atienza, who are in the business sector and  members of the online news site’s board when the PDRs were issued in 2016. The charge against Jose Maria Hofilena, Rappler’s former corporate secretary, was dropped.

According to a Rappler report, the Pasig Prosecutor’s Office filed the charges before the Pasig RTC on Tuesday, March 26. The case was raffled to Branch 265 on Wednesday, March 27.

Gloria and the five other members of the board posted bail of PHP 90,000 each on Wednesday ahead of the issuance of an arrest warrant. Ressa was still out of the country at that time. She posted the same amount of bail today.

Ressa and the seven other board members were also charged separately for alleged violation of the Securities and Regulations Code, again for the issuance of the PDRs to Omidyar. Bail was set at PHP 128,000 for each board member. According to a Rappler report, “The Rappler board had paid bail only for the Anti-Dummy Law charge, because the Securities and Regulations Code charge was re-raffled to a special commercial court which means they would have to pay bail another time should the judge find probable cause.”

After her release, Ressa told the media that “Apparently, the government isn’t satisfied with arresting just me. The fact that they also included upstanding, successful tech and education entrepreneurs and businessmen is a bad signal to send to the rest of the world.”

This is second time Ressa was arrested this year. Last February 13, agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) arrested her on a cyber-libel charge. She was detained overnight at the NBI headquarters after a Pasay night court refused to grant her bail.

This is also the seventh time that Ressa has posted bail. As Rappler CEO, she has been charged with five counts of alleged violations of the National Internal Revenue Code — four in the Court of Tax Appeals and one in the Pasig RTC.

As editor, she has been charged with cyber-libel before the Manila RTC. Businessman Wilfredo Keng filed the complaint with the NBI over a Rappler article that claimed his supposed involvement in drug smuggling and human trafficking.

Ressa and the board of directors have posted a total bail amount of PHP 994,000 for the criminal charges.

Known for its critical reporting on the current administration’s policies, Rappler has been the subject of attacks by President Rodrigo Duterte and his online and offline partisans. Its reporters have also been banned from covering presidential events, whether inside or outside the Office of the President in Malacanang compound.