Duterte himself banned Rappler reporter from Malacañang coverage

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A Malacañang official said it was President Rodrigo Duterte himself who ordered that Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and reporter Pia Ranada be barred from entering Malacañang Palace.

Jhopee Avanceña, head of Malacañang's Internal House Affairs Office (IHAO), told Ranada in a text message on Tuesday, February 20, "I informed the PSG (Presidential Security Group) not to allow you to enter the Palace since I was instructed last night by the President."

She also later on told PTV News that Duterte also wants Rappler CEO Maria Ressa to be barred from entering the Palace.

In a statement, Rappler described the move as "another instance of power attempting to intimidate independent journalists." It praised Ranada for her courage in "asking the tough questions that demand clear answers." (READ: Rappler to Malacañang: Don't use power to obstruct)

Asked how long the President wants Ranada prohibited from entering Malacañang, Avanceña told Ranada: "He said you are not allowed inside. That's it. Not only today."

Duterte apparently gave the order after watching the Senate hearing on the Philippine Navy frigates deal, where Special Assistant to the President Bong Go accused Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer of reporting "fake news" on the Navy project. (READ: Rappler statement on Bong Go's fake news accusation)  

Avanceña said she was given the instructions at midnight.

Asked why Duterte gave such an order, Go said, "'Di ko na ma-answer 'yan (I can no longer answer that)."

The PSG stopped Ranada from entering the New Executive Building (NEB) in the Malacañang compound on Tuesday morning.

After calls were made, the PSG informed Ranada that she could enter NEB but not the Palace itself. No reasons were given for this.

Apparently, the President did not relay his order to key Palace officials, including Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who said he was not aware of the order or who issued it, when asked about the incident during his briefing on Tuesday.

Roque said he even had to clarify the matter with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who told him that Rappler can cover Malacañang events pending the final court decision on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) order revoking Rappler's business registration. 

This is the first known incident after the Marcos regime where a Philippine president specifically banned a journalist, more so a member of the Malacañang Press Corps, from entering the Malacañang compound.

During his presidency, Joseph Estrada banned Inquirer reporters from covering his impromptu chats with the media in his official residence, the Premier Guest House,  but did not keep them from entering Kalayaan Hall, which housed the press working area then, and other presidential events. At the time, Estrada accused the Inquirer of unfair reporting on his presidency and even instigated an ad boycott of the broadsheet.

In Davao City, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the decision to bar Ranada from Palace coverage should not be seen as a curtailment of press freedom.

“Again, the issue with Rappler is its requirements with SEC, and the case been lodged, if I’m not mistaken, with the CA or the Supreme Court,” Andanar told reporters who asked about the President's directive. – Pia Ranada, with a report from Mick Basa / Rappler.com