DOJ to probe NBI's threats vs. Rappler staff during Ressa's arrest

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 14) — The Justice department said it will investigate the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents who threatened Rappler staff for taking videos while they served an arrest warrant on their chief executive officer and executive editor Maria Ressa in their Pasig City office on Wednesday.

"We do not want to make a conclusion which may be out of context. That's why we want to look into the incident and elicit as well the side of the operatives who were serving the warrant so as we'd have a clear picture of what transpired and then find out if there have been any violation on rules on the service of warrant," Justice department spokesperson Markk Perete told CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday.


Perete said that NBI agents can ask people from doing certain actions which they think "may impede the smooth and peaceful service of the warrant."

However, he admitted that based on what he saw from videos posted online by Rappler staff, he did not see anything which could have hampered the service of the arrest warrant on Ressa.

In videos posted by Rappler staff on social media, Rappler reporter Aika Rey was asked by a plainclothes NBI operative to stop taking videos while they were serving the arrest warrant in connection with a cyber libel charge and was warned that if their faces were revealed online, they would "go after" staffers of the online news website.

"Can you stop what you're doing now? Is that okay? And say this to your colleagues, if we see our faces on the net, you'll be sorry. You'll be sorry. We'll go after you," the NBI agent said while he was also taking a video on his phone.


"At first, I was just thinking that he was trying to intimidate me, to stop me from doing my job as a journalist. You know you have to record," Rey told The Source.


She said the NBI agent explained to her that their identities are "weapons," which is why they were insistent on not being seen on video.

The NBI, however, denied that they threatened Rappler staff and asked them to stop taking videos.

"Makikita mo naka-livestream nga siya 'di ba? Naka-live feed. So wala talagang effort na ganun. Walang logic na gagawin namin 'yun. Walang purpose eh. At saka bakit mo i-intimidate?" NBI Cybercrime Division director Victor Lorenzo said.

[Translation: You'll see that they livestreamed it, right. There's a live feed. So there is no effort to do that. There is no logic for us to do that. There's no purpose. And why would you intimidate them?]

Perete said they would want to speak to Rey and the operatives who served the warrant to get to the bottom of the issue. Rey said she would be willing to cooperate with the Justice department.

'Warrant came with no information sheet'

NBI agents served an arrest warrant on Ressa as courts were closing yesterday over a cyber libel charge in connection with an article published months before the passage of the law which defines and penalizes the crime of cyber libel.

Ressa has questioned the timing of the arrest and the service of the warrant without the information sheet, which indicates how much her bail bond is.

This caused her to be unable to post bail last night, leaving her to spend the night in NBI detention.

"For the accused in the case to exercise her right to bail, the judge needs to known how much bail has been set. It became a sort of Catch 22. The judge can't issue, there's not enough information," Ressa's lawyer JJ Disini told The Source.

Perete defended the timing of the service of the warrant, saying that it could be served at any time and that "logistical and operational requirements" of the NBI should be considered.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told CNN Philippines in a text message that Ressa could have avoided being arrested as the information for cyber libel was filed in court nearly two weeks ago. Guevarra said Ressa could have posted bail by then.

Disini said there would not have been a way for them to find out that an information had already been filed and that they were expecting to be given the chance to ask the Justice department to reconsider its indictment of Ressa for cyber libel.


Ressa posted a ₱100,000 bail today and walked free this afternoon.

In finding probable cause to charge Ressa, the Justice department said that while it cannot charge her for the initial publication of the story, it can charge her over the 2014 update of the article.

"Because it constituted a new, somehow article, because of the modification as well as the new republication, then that would qualify now as an offense," Perete said.


Rappler said the NBI had initially junked the cyber libel complaint against Ressa, other executives of the news website and a former staffer, but the Justice department still pursued the case.

The article in question said that businessman Wilfredo Keng lent a vehicle to former Chief Justice Renato Corona and linked him to human trafficking, drug smuggling and other shady dealings.

In a statement, Keng said he tried reaching to Rappler to have the article taken down to clear his name. The online news organization supposedly promised to take down the story, but never did.

"Against this kind of limitless harassment and wanton disregard for the rule of law, I was left with no other choice but to file a case and seek protection from our courts," Keng said.

Ressa said this is the sixth active case she is currently facing.

"[I am] aghast ... It's unbelievable that this thing can happen in a democracy," she told reporters at the NBI's headquarters in Manila. "The message is clear: It's an abuse of power. It's weaponization of the law. If they wanted to scare me, this is not the way to scare me. Follow the rule of law."

Ressa, along with other journalists, was named as Time Magazine's Person of the Year in 2018. Others who were cited were slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and detained Reuters correspondents Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

She was a longtime CNN bureau chief of Manila and Jakarta before founding Rappler.

The online news site has earned the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte following its publication of reports critical of his administration. He and other government officials have accused it of publishing fake news and of being owned by foreigners.

Rappler's license to do business was cancelled in 2018, after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) found that the Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) it sold to American investment firm Omidyar Network gave it negative control over the news website, in violation of the Constitution.

This finding was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, but sent the case back to the SEC to evaluate the effects of the Omidyar's donation of the PDRs to Rappler staff.

CNN Philippines' Gerg Cahiles and Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.