Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo was miffed. This pesky Maria Ressa was complaining about being arrested again, and Panelo simply couldn’t fathom how the series of arrests and string of cases hurled so far at the Rappler CEO could be an attack on press freedom.
“She wants to be treated differently. That cannot be done,” huffed Panelo. “She cannot be complaining that this is a violation of press freedom. All are equal before the law.”
“All are equal before the law”?
Let’s see: Since the Securities and Exchange Commission sought to revoke Rappler’s license in January 2018, following President Duterte’s accusation during his 2017 State of the Nation Address that Rappler was an American-owned company, 11 cases have been filed against Ressa and Rappler directors in different courts.
Her arrest on Friday last week, for supposedly violating the Anti-Dummy Law, was the second in two months. In February, Ressa was arrested over a cyberlibel case filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng. In a span of one year, she had to post bail seven times, and she and her colleagues have had to shell out more than P2 million in bail and travel bonds.
The cases, which include five tax evasion charges, stem from the main allegation by the administration that Rappler’s issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts to Omidyar Network Fund LLC, the company owned by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, constitutes proof of foreign control of the company, in violation of the Constitution.
There is an untranslatable Filipino word for the kind of behavior being levied by the powers that be on Ressa and Rappler: “gigil.”
The nearest word perhaps is obsession — ardor in the positive sense, but something much darker in the opposite, where one fixates on the subject of one’s anger or hostility to the point of renouncing all reason or common sense.
Those extraordinary numbers racked up by Ressa and Rappler in terms of arrest warrants, bail money — not to mention the snorts and sneers regularly emanating from Malacañang about them — testify to an unprecedented level of “gigil” on the part of the administration.
Panelo may wish to call that behavior something else, but one thing is certain: It’s not, in any way, a manifestation of equality before the law.
One only needs to look at the list of administration allies facing plunder, graft, drug links and other crimes who remain free and are seemingly beyond the long arm of the law to realize how comical that statement is.
Where is the similar dogged pursuit when Marcos widow Imelda was sentenced by the Sandiganbayan to 77 years in jail for graft late last year? In fact, Imelda never had to set foot in jail as her bail was quickly posted.
President Duterte himself publicly said he was paying a debt of gratitude to the Marcoses for their support for his candidacy. The payback is there for all to see — from the hero’s burial of the late dictator to the continuing freedom of his wife even after conviction.
Despite the taint of plunder, the Duterte administration and the presidential daughter have also endorsed the reelection bids of former senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada.
Meanwhile, until now, brothers Ben and Erwin Tulfo have yet to return to the national coffers the P60 million paid to their television show by their sister, then Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, in a brazen conflict-of-interest case flagged by the Commission on Audit.
And despite the usual “I will kill you” threat from President Duterte against his friend Peter Lim who has been linked to illegal drugs, Lim has yet to be found and made accountable, the police seemingly in no hurry to know where the guy is, much less serve him a pending warrant of arrest.
The same lenient circumstances have favored another presidential friend, Michael Yang, who was readily cleared of alleged involvement in the drug trade without even a token inquiry into the matter.
The cherry on the pie, if you will, is secessionist leader Nur Misuari, who recently threatened the country with war if federalism is not achieved, to Mr. Duterte’s unruffled face. Before that, the President had casually revealed he had interfered with the courts to ask that Misuari be allowed to travel abroad despite the grave cases against him.
“All are equal under the law”?
As the social-media generation would say, LOL. The singular and by now farcical pursuit of Ressa and Rappler proves the very opposite: that under this administration, some are more equal than others.
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