MANILA, Philippines – They experienced and fought repression under the Marcos regime and other administrations with dictatorial tendencies. Activist groups now see shades of tyranny in the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to revoke Rappler’s license on Monday, January 15.
“The Duterte regime’s revocation of Rappler’s SEC registration, after months of articles about the Duterte regime’s anti-people drug war campaign, is clearly a move to constrict press freedom, targetting media platforms exposing the brutality and inhumanity of the government program. This also attests to the reality that this regime is gradually moving towards a dictatorship,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay on Tuesday.
Other sectors said that the SEC order sent a “chilling effect” to human rights advocates and activists, noting that it is reminiscient of the crackdown against the press more than 3 decades ago during the darkest chapter of Philippine history. From 1972 to 1981, about 70,000 people were imprisoned, 34,000 tortured, and 3,240 killed, including journalists, according to Amnesty International.
“Such move carries with it the political message that this regime can gag reportage that runs counter to its wishes, a hallmark of dictatorial rule,” Gabriela Women’s Party said in a statement.
On Monday, “Rappler” trended worldwide on Twitter as thousands of Filipinos expressed their support for Rappler and press freedom after SEC revoked the license of the social news network to operate.
The SEC focused on the company’s Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDR) from Omidyar Network, saying that it violates constitutional restrictions on ownership and control of mass media entities.
Rappler has long debunked this allegation. It explained that the PDR is a financial instrument used by several large media companies and that it does not translate to investors’ control in the day-to-day operations of the company. (READ: Stand with Rappler, defend press freedom)
Ironic and selective
According to the progressive groups, the SEC decision, which was triggered by an order from the Office of the Solicitor General on December 14, 2016, is both ironic and selective.
“The Duterte regime is targeting Rappler for allegedly being owned by foreigners when it is clamoring to do exactly the same with our land and resources by ridding provisions in our constitution that limit foreign ownership,” Palabay said. (READ: Amnesty International slams ‘alarming attempt’ to silence Rappler)
Gabriela Women’s Party and Kabataan partylist echoed this, citing the administration’s push for Charter Change (Cha-Cha) that will supposedly ease restriction for foreign owner ownership.
President Duterte and his allies in Congress are currently pushing for Cha-Cha and a new Constitution within 3 to 4 years, focusing on shifting the political structure of government to a federal form.
Meanwhile, civil libertarians under the Movement Against Tyranny pointed out the supposed irony in the government’s effort to build a “constitutionality” case against Rappler.
“For a government that violates the multiple constitutional provisions on territory, checks and balances, separation of powers and the Bill of Rights, the Duterte regime is fooling no one…Duterte has no credibility on constitutionality,” MAT said in its statement.
Other groups said that the SEC order only proves how the Duterte administration is hell-bent in clamping down on dissent.
“What the SEC and the Duterte government did to Rappler can be replicated and applied to other media outfits, non-governmental organizations, and institutions critical to Duterte. The crackdown is extending to legitimate entities considered adversaries of Duterte,” Militant farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said in a statement.
SEC as a political weapon
Environmental activists also condemned SEC’s decision, calling on the commission not to allow itself to be used as a “political weapon” of the Duterte administration.
“Closing down Rappler means one less independent media through which environmental advocates can stand up to the oligarchs and corporations that seem to run the Duterte government’s agenda nowadays,” Kalikasan said in a statement.
Rappler has published a number of Kalikasan’s investigative features and opinion pieces on forest conservation, mining, coal, climate change, and the plight of environmental defenders over the past years.
“Rappler, especially through its civic engagement arm MovePH, has been an effective platform for us environmental advocates to raise issues on ecological protection and natural resources conservation,” Kalikasan said.
Meanwhile, Kabataan partylist urged the public, especially the youth, to speak up and defend press freedom.
“Rather than be silenced, this is an opportunity for us to expect he wickedness of the Duterte administration,” Kabataan said.
Duterte started his administration in 2016 with Leftist activist groups as alies. This alliance collapsed during the president’s second SONA when he announced his decision to end peace talks with the revolutionary Left. (READ: Civil libertarians launch Movement vs Duterte’s ‘acts of tyranny’)
On Tuesday, Malacañang downplayed the SEC ruling against Rappler, saying that things could have been worse.
If the President really wanted to shut down Rappler, he would have “sent the Armed Forces to their offices and padlocked them,” according to Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque. (READ: Malacañang: At least Duterte didn’t order military vs Rappler) – Rappler.com