Duterte washes hands off Maria Ressa's arrest

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 14) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he is unaware about Rappler chief Maria Ressa's arrest, which some labelled as the administration's latest blow against the media.

"Hindi ko talaga alam yan... sa labas po ako the whole day," the President told the media on the sidelines of PDP-Laban's proclamation rally in Bulacan.

[Translation: I really don't know that, I was out the whole day.]

"I cannot say anything. I have yet to read, I cannot give you an opinion," Duterte added.

Ressa is out on bail after getting arrested Wednesday afternoon for a cyber libel case involving a story published on Rappler in May 2012, months before the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was enacted. It stemmed from a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng in October 2017 over an allegedly libelous article saying that he had loaned a vehicle to then Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Duterte also denied knowing the businessman.

"Hindi ko kilala 'yang si (I do not know) Keng. Frankly, I do not know him and what prompted him to file the case," he said.

The Rappler executive was detained overnight at the conference room of the National Bureau of Investigation's Anti-Cybercrime Division after she was blocked to post bail by the Pasay City court due to jurisdictional reasons.

Ressa's arrest sparked an outcry among press freedom advocates and media practitioners in and out of the country, all denouncing what they call an obvious act of persecution.

READ: UN rapporteur tells Rappler CEO: 'You can count on us'

Duterte had lashed out at the news company, which is known to be critical of the administration. In February 2018, Malacanang barred Rappler l and its reporter from covering events at the Palace. The Justice Department also last year indicted Rappler and Ressa for purportedly failing to file income and value-added tax returns in violation of Sections 254 and 255 of the Tax Code. This is in connection to the Bureau of Internal Revenue's ₱133.8-million tax evasion case against the company.

Malacañang had denied having a hand in Ressa's arrest.

"The rule of law has been observed in this particular case. She was given the opportunity to present evidence and rebut the charges against her," Presidential Sporkesperson Sal Panelo said.