House opposition: SEC decision vs Rappler 'ironic' attack against press

MANILA, Philippines – In criticizing the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)’s decision to revoke news organization Rappler’s Certificate of Incorporation, progressive party-list group Gabriela slammed the apparent “irony” in the agency’s basis for its decision.

“In quite an ironic light, the SEC invoked the foreign equity restrictions of the 1987 Constitution at a time when President Duterte and his allies are on high gear in pushing for Charter Change (Cha-Cha), which include extending term limits and lifting limits on foreign ownership of land, public utilities and of the media,” said the group in a statement released on Monday, January 15. (READ: Stand with Rappler, defend press freedom)

Gabriela said the decision “constitutes one of the gravest attacks to press freedom in the post-1986 EDSA uprising period” and is a “chilling reminder” of the media crackdown during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship. (READ: SEC decision vs Rappler 'a loss for dissenting voices, free speech' – senators)

The SEC revoked the registration of Rappler, saying the company violated the 1987 Constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law because of funds from Omidyar Network, a fund created by eBay founder and entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar.

It also voided the Omidyar Philippine Depositary Receipt (PDR) and revoked Rappler's Certificate of Incorporation. A PDR, however, not not indicate ownership and does not give its owner voting rights in the company’s board or a role in its day-to-day operations. Several large Philippine companies, including media networks, utilize PDRs.

Rappler will be contesting the decision through all legal means.

The SEC decision is not executory. It will be up to the Justice Department, which is under the Office of the President, to act on it.

Support for the organization

Other opposition lawmakers joined Grabriela in criticizng the decision, with Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao calling it an “authoritarian measure.”

“This is a confirmation that the Duterte government is intolerant of a critical institution, especially from the media sector. It is a stern warning that media outfits should abandon independence and act as flunkey of the government or face repression,” said Casilao, who, like Gabriela, belongs to the now-opposition Makabayan bloc in the House.

ACT Teachers Representatives France Castro and Antonio Tinio raised alarm against the move. Castro called it an “outright slap at the constitutionally protected freedom of expression and the right of the people to information.”

Tinio linked the SEC decision to previous “attacks” against other media organizations critical of the administration. Duterte had earlier publicly threatened the Philippine Daily Inquirer and TV network ABS-CBN. The two are among the biggest and most influential media companies in the country.

“His gameplan is clear: to silence critical media, neuter recalcitrant constitutional bodies, tame the judiciary, terrorize the urban and rural poor through police and military violence, and crack down on dissent in order to perpetuate himself and his ruling clique in power,” said Tinio.

Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago, also a member of the bloc, said the SEC decision should be a “wake up call” for the public to “stand against the Duterte regime.”

Elago also called out the "irony" in the SEC decision in contrast to the administration's push to change the Constitution and allow foreigners to own Philippine media companies. 

The Makabayan bloc was one part of the Duterte-allied House supermajority bloc but it left, citing Duterte’s alleged failure to deliver on his promises.

Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin, who belongs to a separate opposition bloc in the House, said the SEC’s move was a “big blow to democracy.”

“The Duterte administration is going on a killing spree, including that of a free press. It is a mockery of our freedoms and will lead to more repressive measures. A government that kills the truth will kill political dissent,” he said.

The House is dominated by a supermajority led by PDP-Laban, the ruling party. – Rappler.con