MANILA, Philippines – Solicitor General Jose Calida’s move to file a petition with the Supreme Court (SC) against a fact checking and voter’s education agreement between the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Rappler is not only an attack on the online news site, but on media in the Philippines, warned an election watchdog.
Journalism professor and Kontra Daya convenor Danilo Arao had denounced Calida’s efforts on Monday, March 7, saying the Office of the Solicitor General’s (OSG) case with the SC was also “clearly a press freedom issue.” Calida had argued that Rappler’s agreement with the poll body “clearly constitutes prior restraint on freedom of speech and of expression.”
“It reflects the impunity with which the Duterte administration harasses and intimidates individuals and groups they don’t like, including journalists and news media organizations,” Arao said.
“The OSG’s attempt to intervene should be seen in the context of how it filed a complaint against Rappler with the SEC in 2017, as well as how the OSG tried to file a quo warranto petition with the Supreme Court as regards ABS-CBN’s franchise,” he added.
Calida had filed a petition with the SC Monday morning seeking to void the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between Comelec and Rappler, arguing that fact checks violate free speech.
Calida had earlier written Comelec to unilaterally rescind the agreement with Rappler by Friday, March 4, or else he would go to the Supreme Court by March 7. But the poll body defended the agreement and asserted it is an independent body.
In his office’s pleading, Calida told the High Court that when Rappler, or anyone for that matter, fact checks, they are prohibiting the publication of fake content. The Solicitor General makes novel use of the constitutional principle of prior restraint, which in general, protects free expression from government restrictions.
Kontra Daya said the OSG’s complaint reflected how it “would grasp at straws…just to find something allegedly wrong with the MOA.” Arao pointed out Rappelr’s history of partnering with the poll body to ensure clean, credible, honest, and truthful elections.
The group said Calida’s petition reflected how “Under the Duterte administration, the OSG has been reduced as a conduit for attacking the media, aside from being an apologist of the Marcos camp.”
Calida’s first public statement against the Rappler-Comelec deal was made on the same day that the Marcos camp also called it out. Fact-checking consortium Tsek.PH has found that since the election season, fake news has mostly benefitted presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. Calida campaigned for Marcos in 2016.
On Monday, the Comelec stood by its MOA, saying “We cannot do anything but face the music, answer the petition, and defend the MOA that we signed with Rappler.”
Acting Comelec chairperson Socorro Inting said, “We entered with an agreement with Rappler freely and voluntarily. It underwent review by the law department. If the court finds the MOA to be infirm, we cannot do anything. We have to respect the law.”– Rappler.com