Be ‘concerned’ over moves to muzzle ‘watchdog’ press – Robredo

Mara Cepeda
Be ‘concerned’ over moves to muzzle ‘watchdog’ press – Robredo
'Kung wala ng bantay, ano ‘yong makakahadlang sa pang-aabuso ng mga opisyal ng gobyerno?' says Vice Presdent Leni Robredo on the SEC order against Rappler

MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Leni Robredo said on Tuesday, January 16, that the public should be “concerned” over any efforts to muzzle the media. 

Robredo was asked to react to the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to revoke Rappler’s registration for alleged violation of constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership and control of mass media entities. 

Kahit anumang balita na mayroong pagsubok ng parang i-curtail ‘yong freedom of the press, freedom of expression, isang [itong] bagay na kailangang mabahala iyong bawat Pilipino,” the Vice President saud in an ambush interview on Tuesday.

(Any news that involves the curtailment of the freedom of the press, freedom of expression, is something that should make every Filipino concerned.)

Robredo, a labor and human rights lawyer before she entered politics, said journalists play an important role as “watchdogs” against corruption in government, which is crucial for democracy. (READ: Democracy under threat: We will shine the light, we will hold the line

“Parati nating sinasabi na ‘yong media, sila ‘yong inaasahan na maging watchdog. Sila ‘yong bantay para [sa] pagsubok ng pang-aabuso ng nasa pamahalaan. Kung wala ng bantay, ano ‘yong makakahadlang sa pang-aabuso ng mga opisyal ng gobyerno?” said Robredo. 

(We always say we expect the media to be the watchdogs. They guard against government abuses. If there are no more watchdogs, who will prevent the abuses of government officials?) 

The SEC is accusing Rappler of being foreign-owned as it has received funds from Omidyar Network, a fund created by eBay founder and entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar, through a Philippine Depositary Receipt (PDR).  

Several large media companies have PDRs, financial instruments that do not give the owners voting rights in the board or a say in the management or day-to-day operations of the company.  The SEC itself accepted the Omidyar-related documents submitted by Rappler in 2015. (READ: Debunking lies about Rappler)

The SEC’s order is not yet final and executory, which means Rappler can continue operating as it contests the ruling before the court. (READ: Stand with Rappler, defend press freedom

Several journalists, student publications, lawmakers, human rights groups, and netizens have slammed the SEC decision, tagging it as an attack on free press. Malacañang claimed that President Rodrigo Duterte had no hand in the SEC order. (READ: Malacañang: At least Duterte didn’t order military vs Rappler)

Sowing fear vs government critics? 

The Vice President said it is important to answer several questions surrounding the order to shut down Rappler.

These include what were Rappler’s violations and if these were also committed by other entities, too.

Kung hindi, bakit parang inaalisan siya? Bakit pinaparusahan siya nang ganito? Kailangan maintindihan natin ‘yan kasi otherwise, ‘pag di natin naintindihan, unang-una, magdadala siya ng takot,” said Robredo.

(If they’re not the only one who committed the violations, why are they removing its license? Why is it being punished this way? We need to understand this because otherwise, first of all, it will bring about fear.) 

The Vice President said this might lead the public to think that those who criticize the government will be punished.

Pangalawa, ‘pag nagdala siya ng takot, parang mape-prevent ‘yong ibang gustong magpuna sa ating pamahalaan, na ipagpatuloy ‘yong pagpupuna. Mahalaga sa ating demokrasya, mahalaga ‘yong dissent,” explained the Vice President. 

(Secondly, if this brings fear, those who want to criticize the government will be prevented from doing so. Dissent is important in our democracy.)

She said criticisms against the government force officials to assess their actions.

“Kung mayroong kasalanan, mayroong proseso na kailangang sundin. Kailangan maalis sa isipan nating lahat na hindi ito bahagi ng pagpapatahimik (If there is a violation, there is a process to follow. We have to be assured by the government that this is not a form of suppression),” said Robredo. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.