NBI orders probe on agents' conduct during Ressa arrest

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 19) — The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has ordered a probe on the behavior of its agents who served an arrest warrant for a cyber libel case against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa. 

In an order dated February 18, released Tuesday, NBI Chief Dante Gierran said he has directed the Internal Affairs Division to look into the conduct of NBI personnel following reports of threats against staff members of online news site Rappler, during the arrest of their CEO at their office in Pasig City on February 13. 

During the arrest, a Rappler reporter claimed she was threatened by an NBI personnel to refrain from documenting the apprehension or else she will "be sorry."

Ressa also argued there were irregularities in her arrest, implicating that the government deliberately ensured she would be denied bail. Ressa cited the lack of an information sheet indicating the amount of bail, and the timing of her arrest, which was past court operating hours. Ressa spent the night in the NBI detention quarters in Manila the same day. 

The NBI had previously denied anomalies to the arrest. It explained that the delays to the service of Ressa's warrant was due to "logistical and operational requirements" and denied that any threats were made against Rappler staff members. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on February 14 also ordered a probe on the NBI agents in question. DOJ spokesperson Markk Perete said agents are allowed to instruct people against certain actions that would hinder the "peaceful service of the warrant." However, he admitted that based on the footage of the encounter between the reporter and the agent, there was no indication of hampering the service of the warrant on Ressa. 

Ressa was arrested for a cyber libel case for an article published in May 2012, months before the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was passed. The original publication of the story that year is not covered by the law, the DOJ earlier explained. However, it cannot say the same of Rappler's February 2014 update.

In the article, businessman Wilfredo Keng was said to have lent a vehicle to former Chief Justice Renato Corona. Keng denied this in the same story.

International journalists, human rights advocates and some lawmakers slammed Ressa's arrest, saying it was "politically motivated" and a form of persecution by a "bully government."

Ressa maintained her innocence and accused the administration of "weaponization of the law" and "abuse of power" against its perceived enemies. Rappler has earned the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte because of its reports critical of his administration, particularly its anti-drug war.