MANILA, Philippines — Notwithstanding his acknowledged dislike for Rappler, President Rodrigo Duterte had nothing to do with the Securities and Exchange Commission ruling to revoke the news outfit’s registration, and found it “unfair” to be accused of instigating the decision, his spokesman Harry Roque said Tuesday, January 16.
At a press briefing in Malacañang, Roque said when he talked to Duterte Monday night, the President did not like the fact that Rappler CEO Maria Ressa was calling the SEC decision the offshoot of his dislike for the news site. In fact, “he was not even aware that this decision would come up,” Roque said.
Besides, if Duterte wanted to shut down Rappler, Roque said, “he could have just sent armed forces into their offices and padlocked them, which has been done by other regimes. The President has never done that.”
The SEC ruling has been greeted with outrage by media and free expression advocates here and abroad, who see it as part of a perceived effort to clamp own on critical reporting.
“We would like to deny … that the state has infringed on freedom of the press of Rappler or any of its reporters,” Roque said as he noted Rappler reporter Pia Ranada was present at the press briefing and was not prevented from exercising her profession as a journalist. Neither, he added, were its other reporters.
Roque also pointed out that Duterte only appointed one SEC commissioner — Emilio Benito Aquino. The rest, including chairperson Teresita Herbosa, were appointed by former President Benigno Aquino III.
He added that Herbosa is respected among her peers in the law profession, and cannot be influenced into making a decision that is against the law. It would be “unfair” to accuse her of being a “lackey” of the President, he said.
Roque also stressed that the SEC, which he called an independent body and one of most efficient agencies of government, had been looking into Rappler’s compliance with the law even before the Office of the Solicitor General wrote it in December 2016 asking it to investigate Rappler over its Philippine Depositary Receipts.
He explained that the SEC decided that the PDR Rappler had issued in favor of the Omidyar Network, an international philanthropic investment firm founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, violates the constitutional prohibition against foreign ownership of media because it gave control of the outfit to a foreign entity.
Thus, he said, the ruling was an affront to freedom of the press because there is no censorship.
In fact, he added, because the ruling upholds the constitutional provision on limiting media ownership to Filipinos, it “enjoys the overwhelming presumption of constitutionality.”
And while insisting Rappler was not a victim of an attack on press freedom, Roque stressed that no one is exempt from complying with the law.
“One should come to court with clean hands,” he said.
With the media industry being a public trust, its members should exercise the privileges that come with the profession. Before criticizing public officials, they must look in the mirror first, he said.
CLICK AND WATCH, BELOW, A VIDEO CLIP OF PRESIDENT DUTERTE IN A HEATED EXCHANGE WITH RAPPLER REPORTER PIA RANADA, WHERE HE RUBS IN THE CORPORATE OWNERSHIP ISSUE: