Ledesma: Freedom and crime

AM NOT surprised when some quarters are exploiting to the hilt the order of the Securities and Exchange Commission to shut down the operations of Rappler. The bannered story warns of the muzzling of the press. Rappler itself, quoting Spokesman Harry Roque, wrote that if Duterte wants to close the media establishment they could have just sent the military. Of course it is the usual Rappler's furtive way of saying it which is very characteristic of this media outfit.

But this is not about press freedom. It is about media ownership which, under Philippine laws, should be 100 percent owned by Filipinos. For years since the inception of Rappler, the impression was that it is fully owned by Pinoys. There are Filipinos with extra money to spare who invested money in Rappler in the hope that they can support an independent media outfit. As everybody knew, the big media establishments are tools used by the wealthy and famous to protect their interest from political predators but they end up using the muscle of the press to either promote or destroy politicians and their adversaries.

Not until SEC ordered the closure of Rappler that it came out in the open that the notorious ON OMIDYAR had wormed its way in and into the heart and brain of Rappler. The characters behind these outfits are shrewd but not wise enough their own disclosures in their PDRs gave them away. The Philippine Deposit Receipts which Rappler through its holding company issued explicitly granted ON OMIDYAR to have a say in the operations and business of Rappler. Maria Ressa's attention was called by SEC on this critical item but it appears that she was not paying attention or might have thought she can deal with the problem anyway. Looks like she sat on the problem that even the members of the 5-man Commission who, except for one, are all appointees of ex-Pres. Noynoy Aquino have reach a point of decision.

As the story unravels, again it showed that there was an attempt to correct the provisions in the PDRs by submitting ON OMIDYAR's waiver on its right to intrude into the conduct of business of Rappler. Again Rappler showed its cavalier attitude, it submitted the waiver document which was not even notarized. Obviously even the Aquino-controlled SEC cannot take the lackadaisical attention of Ma. Ressa. It revoked the SEC registration of Rappler.

Even as it had been axed, Ressa and Pia Ranada fought back the later, calling President Rodrigo Duterte names as if they reign supreme and they alone know what freedom of the press means. To add to her dramatics, Pia intoned that she is prepared to go to prison for exercising her rights of free expression. She forgot that it was Duterte who, early in his presidency signed an EO on Freedom of Information.

Ressa and Ranada wailed their press freedom had been curtailed. But such is not the case. Every word that they say saw print and broadcasted in nearly 2,000 media outlets in the Philippines and not counting the social media. The revocation of Rappler's permit is not about freedom of the press but its violation of the constitution which succinctly underlines that media establishment must be 100 percent Filipino owned.

In hindsight the Duterte government was even too kind to Rappler even as it was the leading media organization that demonize Duterte in every turn. I had seriously doubted its overtures that brag it stands for truth and fairness. During the senate hearing on extra-judicial killing allegedly carried out by the Davao Death Squad which Sen. Leila De Lima and Sen. Antonio Trillanes claimed was organized by Duterte, Rappler simply swallowed what witnesses Matobato and Lascanas said. In 2009, when as CHR Chair De Lima conducted a probe on EJK, the number of victims she alleged then was less than 300. The probe lasted for months with nary a piece of evidence was found to indict Mayor Duterte. She pursued her quest to pin Digong when she became Justice secretary but again she failed. When she became senator, she became even more aggressive she placed a bungling Matobato in the witness stand. But Matobato was flawless in his delivery when he was interviewed by Time Magazine. It was unmistakable he was reading from an idiot's card. He proudly state that as member of DDS he killed and buried more than 200 persons in an abandoned quarry. Yet he cannot find the grave of his victims.

When it was the turn of Lascanas to testify in the Senate inquiry, he casually said that they buried more than 2,000 EJK victims in the same quarry. Between the two perjured witnesses, they confessed to the killing of over 2,200 victims of EJK which they buried, they said, in the abandoned quarry. It is simply a classic fantasy. A manslaughter of such magnitude cannot escape notice especially when that narrow piece of land is just about four kilometers from city hall and so adjacent to a number of housing subdivisions. Nevertheless, if they were so sure then why cannot they find a single piece of viable evidence.

In all these occasions, Rappler gave the hearings liberal space and took the testimonies of the witnesses as the biblical truths. Both Rappler and Time Magazine adopted exactly the same flawed statistics which in their recent count had reached 13,000 EJK victims. I am based in Davao and frankly, I am amazed by the courage of Rappler and Time magazine to extrapolate figures for I do not know where they plucked these from. I also am aghast at their courage to perpetuate the lies.

Much of what they wrote about DDS, EJK and curtailment of press freedom are figments of their fertile imagination. DDS for one is a ghost force conceptualized by Police Regional Commander Dionisio Tan-gatue Jr. This predates Duterte's entry in politics. EJK issue was an invention of the political adversaries of Duterte who were salivating for the mayoral position. In Davao, the champion of press freedom or freedom of expression is not from the media but Duterte himself. Time and again, as Mayor, Duterte would prod media men to be critical but speak or write the truth. It is only in Davao City where leftist organizations can stage rallies or demonstrations without permit from city hall.

Frankly, I find Duterte's tolerance for rabid attack against him quite
uncanny. He had been subjected to scurrilous attacks in his 25 years of service as an elected official but I never heard of any single libel suit filed by him against any of his detractors. Rappler, even as it has been ordered closed by SEC, can go on demonizing Duterte because he is one that protects the freedom of critical or even inventive press but he can do nothing when the act is violative of the basic tenets of the constitution. In or out of Rappler, Ressa can do her thing and so with Pia provided they watch their steps. Press freedom is one thing and an offense that breach the limits of what the constitution mandates is another.

And please do not drag PAS Bong Go to add spice to your melodrama. The intrigue will not wash. Like me, the media persons who write from Davao know Bong's tasks from day one. He is the personified data bank of Duterte. While he has been dubbed as the country's photo bomber his role in the administration is simply benign.
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