Libre: Defending Rappler

THE revocation of the registration of online news platform Rappler as a Philippine corporate entity by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has stoked fears of Marcosian tendencies of the Duterte government. The SEC cited Rappler for having violated a provision in the Constitution that requires 100-percent Filipino control for any media entity.

Malacañang has denied any hand in the decision, claiming that the body had been investigating Rappler’s ownership structure since July 2017. Yet the president had hinted that he would want the entity to be scrutinized based on information that it is “fully owned by Americans.” While SEC failed to find that Rappler has shares of stocks issued to foreigners, it stretched the reach of the constitutional provision, ruling that it was engaged in fraud and circumvented the constitutional ban on foreign ownership in media, having accepted over $1 million (around P50 million) from a foreign investor, Omidyar Network, in the form of Philippine Depositary Receipts or PDRs.

In fairness to Malacañang, the commissioners who signed the decision were not appointees of Duterte, and the lone appointee of the current administration abstained from signing. SEC chair Teresita Herbosa denied any political pressure on the body’s decision and that those criticizing them are diverting “people’s attention to what is the real issue.”

If only the president kept his mouth shut about Rappler then, it would have been difficult for critics and civil rights advocates to link him to the decision. Agencies of government take hint from pronouncements, if not serious accusations from the Chief Executive of the nation. More so in this administration where appointees of former president Benigno Aquino III have either been asked to resign, if not harassed.

For instance, how would you label the act of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea in phoning Commission on Higher Education Chairperson Patricia Licuanan asking her to step down ahead of the expiration of her term in July 2018? With the SEC decision, the president would probably bypass SEC as a body for appointments of supporters waiting in queue.

If the president did not have any hand in the revocation, still we should not simply take a by-stander position. Herbosa should be reminded that press freedom or its curtailment is the real issue, and that they deserve the brunt of criticisms, both domestic and international. Who knows the president may just put the commissioners in his hit list, for putting him in bad light?

In these critical times when fake news flood social media, independent sources of news have become vanguards of truth. If we fail to defend entities such as Rappler, then we will be fed with nothing but lies, half truths and propaganda, recipes for authoritarianism and dictatorship.
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