Aguirre looks for 'other laws' violated by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Apart from corporate foreign control and possible violation of the anti-dummy law, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said his department's investigation into Rappler will also look at "other laws" as well.

“Whether any law has been violated, it will not be limited to administrative law, anti-dummy law but we are going to see if there are other laws violated by anybody in connection with this decision of SEC in cancellation of registration of Rappler,” Aguirre said in a chance interview.

Earlier, Solicitor General Jose Calida said the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation will look at anti-dummy law. Aguirre has formalized the investigation by authorizing the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct a case buildup.

The anti-dummy law prohibits foreigners from intervening in any "nationalized activity" such as the operation of a media company, which should have 100% Filipino control under the Constitution.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler’s certificate of registration because of a clause in its Philippine Depositary Receipt (PDR) agreement with foreign investor Omidyar Network that it must be consulted before changing the company’s articles of incorporation or by-laws.

Rappler lawyer Francis Lim said that Omidyar waived the clause in December 2017, but SEC Chairperson Teresita Herbosa said the copy of the waiver sent to them was not subscribed to by a notary or a Philippine consulate.

"Therefore, the purported waiver is of no substantial value to the formal proceedings against the respondents," the SEC decision states.

Lim said the revocation of registration was too harsh, adding that it was just Rappler Holdings Corporation not Rappler Incorporated, which was a party to the PDR.

But Aguirre is convinced it is a circumvention of the Constitution.

“You should not circumvent what is stated in the Constitution. In other words, you should not do even indirectly what is prohibited in the Constitution,” Aguirre said. 

In a statement, Rappler slammed the DOJ-NBI investigation as a “fishing expedition.”

"This is a fishing expedition, and pure and simple harassment. We thought this was supposed to be in relation to PDRs and the alleged violation of the Constitution," Rappler said.

"It's all the more clear and blatant what government's agenda is: they're dead set to get Rappler and kill press freedom," the statement added.

Aguirre took exception to the statement, and called it "unfair to the good men and women of the NBI and of the DOJ."

"When the Constitution or any law has been violated by Rappler, necessarily the DOJ will be involved in its investigation, otherwise the DOJ will be remiss in its duties," he said.

Aguirre said the investigation is not meant to "interfere nor violate press freedom."

"Rappler should welcome this investigation so that it will have the chance to prove the innocence it claims to have. We call on Rappler to actively participate in the investigation of the NBI," Aguirre said. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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