Filipino Teacher Faces Charges over Tweet Calling for Duterte Killing

Luis Liwanag and Jeoffrey Maitem
200512-PH-teacher-620.jpg Filipino teacher Ronnel Mas reacts to being taken into custody by National Bureau of Investigation agents in Santa Cruz, Philippines, on May 12, 2020.

A public school teacher who allegedly posted on Twitter that he would pay anyone who could kill Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte almost U.S. $1 million has been arrested, authorities said Tuesday.

Ronnel Mas, 25, was picked up by National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents from his residence in Santa Cruz, a town in northwestern Zambales province. Television footage showed a handcuffed Mas being taken into custody.

“I will give a 50 million peso reward to whoever will kill Duterte,” his tweet said.

Mas later begged for forgiveness and said he had written the offensive message to get attention. The post, he said, was not intentional.

“That tweet is just my sentiment and it was being ignored so I did that. It was a wrong move,” he told reporters as he was presented for inquest proceedings at the justice department.

The NBI filed a criminal complaint against Mas on charges of inciting sedition, which is punishable by up to six years in prison, and cybercrimes law violations, according to justice officials.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Mas’ apology was welcome, but it would not spare him from prosecution.

“In any case, the rights of the person arrested will be respected at all times, including his right to counsel,” Guevarra said. “An apology is not one of the grounds for extinguishing criminal liability. One cannot feloniously injure another and get away with it by merely saying ‘sorry.’”

Despite the justice secretary’s statement, critics and analysts have said that since Duterte became president in 2016, free speech and freedom of the press have been under attack. The Philippine leader has complained about the media, which has reported critically about his war on narcotics that has left about 6,000 people dead during the past four years, according to government figures.

Duterte has openly expressed disdain at reporters for questioning the drug war. At one point he even appeared to endorse violence against them, saying that journalists were not “exempted from assassination.”

The government last week shut down ABS-CBN Corp., the country’s largest network, after it failed to secure a new franchise from Congress. The network’s free TV and radio frequencies are off the air while the case is under appeal, but its cable channel, which is not a subject of the franchise renewal process, continues to broadcast.

Duterte also has gone after the popular online new site Rappler, which like ABS-CBN, has highlighted wrongful deaths in the war on drugs.

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