Rappler to Harry Roque: Duterte ban about press freedom

MANILA, Philippines – "No, Mr Roque. This is about press freedom," Rappler told Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Wednesday, February 21, after he claimed that President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to ban Rappler from Malacañang "is not an attack on press freedom."

In a statement, the social news network said, "It is not the government's role to say who can cover what, and when, and where. There is a clear line between a nation's officials, and the press whose job it is to hold them accountable by informing the public of their actions."

Rappler also stressed that the government is "setting Rappler as an example to other critical news outlets of what could happen if they continue to ask their own hard questions."

"The government has set a precedent, and while we may be the pet peeve now, someone else could be next," the news outlet said.

Roque, known as a press freedom advocate before becoming Duterte's mouthpiece, earlier said it is Rappler's fault that it was banned from covering Malacañang.

"Peke na nga ang balita ng Rappler, peke pa rin ang pagiging Pilipino nila. Ayusin muna nila ang dalawang bagay na ito bago sila sumigaw ng kalayaan sa pamamahayag," Roque said. (Not only is Rappler's news fake, its being Filipino is also fake.) 

The Malacañang Press Corps, however, asserted that Rappler reporter Pia Ranada remains their member unless the Court of Appeals upholds the ruling of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoking Rappler's registration. 

Duterte decided to ban Rappler from Malacañang after his closest aide, Christopher "Bong" Go, faced a Senate probe prompted by stories published by both Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer on a controversial frigate deal. 

Read Rappler's full response to Roque below:

No, Mr Roque. This is about press freedom.

It is not the government's role to say who can cover what, and when, and where. There is a clear line between a nation's officials, and the press whose job it is to hold them accountable by informing the public of their actions.

No less than the SEC had declared it is not executing its decision until it becomes final and executory. We did not apply for a TRO [Temporary Restraining Order] relying on good faith with the official statement, and now you are conveniently using it to suppress freedom. 

Judging from the actuations of this administration, you will find another way to bar us even if we get a TRO. It is a barefaced assault on the right of all journalists to do their job. Your mad scramble during your press conference to justify Ranada's barring with contradictory statements belies the truth: that the administration sees the free press as a threat to its comfort and impunity.

As you yourself admitted in a dzMM interview afterwards, referring to Ranada, "Bwisit sa kanya ang Presidente."

You seem to just be echoing the chorus among the President's online supporters that press freedom is not the issue, but this is a clear case of intimidation.

Mr Roque, may we remind you of your roots as a human rights lawyer. Article 32 of the Civil Code is explicit: "Any public officer or employee, or any private individual, who directly or indirectly obstructs, defeats, violates or in any manner impedes or impairs" rights and liberties that include the "freedom of speech" and the "freedom to write for the press or to maintain a periodical publication" shall be liable for damages.

You and the administration are setting Rappler as an example to other critical news outlets of what could happen if they continue to ask their own hard questions, questions you fail to answer properly. The government has set a precedent, and while we may be the pet peeve now, someone else could be next.

Read Roque's earlier statement below:

This is to inform everyone that under the Rules of Court, judgments and final orders of quasijudicial agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), are not stayed while on appeal with the Court of Appeals (CA), unless the CA directs otherwise. In Rappler's case, no such directive from the CA has been issued.  

We did not implement the SEC decision at once. We could have earlier disallowed Rappler's Palace beat reporter, Pia Ranada, from entering Malacañang when the SEC decision was handed down if our intent is to infringe (on) press freedom. However, we allowed Ms Ranada to continue performing her work assignments unimpeded, notwithstanding that trust with the news source had already been adversely affected, in the hope that this would be restored. We likewise gave Rappler ample time to avail of legal remedies. However, it became apparent that Rappler is more interested in spreading fake news, and as yesterday’s incident demonstrated, it would rather sensationalize the issue of non-entry in Malacañang rather than comply with the rules.

Let us be clear: The case of Rappler is not an attack on press freedom. Members of the media, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer, continue to be hard-hitting yet they can cover the activities of the President. Ms Ranada's accreditation, which would give her access to Palace activities, lies on Rappler's accreditation. If Rappler wants to have direct coverage of certain events inside and outside Malacañang, it may apply for Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) accreditation. 

Two things could have avoided Rappler’s present predicament: One, get a temporary restraining order (TRO). Two, be a Filipino corporation. Unfortunately, Rappler failed to obtain a TRO and failed to show that it is a Filipino entity.  

We gave Rappler sufficient opportunity to rectify the infraction of ownership rules or obtain judicial relief, but instead of doing so it spent time and resources to foment false news and opted to twist the facts like it often does.

Peke na nga ang balita ng Rappler, peke pa rin ang pagiging Pilipino nila.  Ayusin muna nila ang dalawang bagay na ito bago sila sumigaw ng kalayaan sa pamamahayag.

– Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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