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Senator Poe: “We should fear more if press is silenced”

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Sen. Grace Poe today said a free press helps keep the democracy alive and attempts to silence and intimidate them are disturbing developments that may have a chilling effect on press freedom.

Sought for comment a day after Rappler CEO Maria Ressa was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) over a cyberlibel case, Poe said, “I think that we should fear more if the press is silenced because it is really through the freedom of speech that we are able to guard the different institutions of government; that we are also able to uphold democracy in our country.”

Ressa’s arrest stemmed from a story that was published in May 2012, four months before the enactment of the Cybercrime Law. Rappler, highly critical of the administration, was also the subject of a tax evasion case.

Global media groups and human rights watchdogs slammed the latest blow to Rappler, saying it was an attempt to stifle press freedom in the country.

Poe, for her part, said she was “puzzled” but also hoped that “that the courts will follow and observe the right process because it is enshrined in our Constitution that we should protect press freedom.”

Without going through the merits of the case, I am praying that the courts will continue to be fair and objective and will not forget the safeguards, not just for press freedom, but for individual freedoms,” Poe said at the sidelines of a transport event in Manila on Thursday, February 14.

Poe, who chairs the Senate public information and mass media committee, said authorities should clear the issues about purported unfair treatment on Rappler.

“I hope that whoever is in charge will come out and speak transparently about the merits of the case and also the reasons behind their actions because the public deserves an explanation regarding this so as to dispel any fears and doubts about an unfair treatment,” Poe added.

Asked about the NBI’s attempt to stop reporters from covering the arrest and taking videos, Poe said it was not an ongoing police investigation that will endanger the life of anybody.

“I don’t think there’s any basis for them to say that you cannot cover such arrest especially if it’s to ensure that the processes are followed properly. Mas gusto kong malaman, ano bang naging dahilan ng NBI doon, kasi para sa akin mas nakakabahala ‘yon na ‘pag mayroong mga nangyayaring ganyan hindi puwedeng i-cover ng media. Naiintindihan ko ‘pag ongoing police investigation that might jeopardize the safety of individuals and the operation itself; pero kung na-arrest na nila ‘yung tao, anong makakasama doon?” Poe stressed.

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