HRW: Barring access to Malacañang can lead to 'broader assault' on media

MANILA, Philippines – Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday, February 21, warned that the order to bar Rappler reporter Pia Ranada and CEO Maria Ressa from entering Malacañang should be seen as a threat to press freedom in the Philippines. 

HRW Asia Division’s Carlos Conde said that restricting access, among other ways to curtail media, can happen to anyone as President Rodrigo Duterte continues to vilify the press.

“It could portend a broader assault on journalists and news organizations whose critical watchdog role has magnified the government’s poor human rights record, from extrajudicial killings of thousands of alleged drug dealers and users to conflict-related abuses in the south,” he said.

After initially barring Ranada from entering the New Executive Building (NEB) on Tuesday, February 20, without any reason nor a written order, officials later relayed that Duterte himself ordered her and Ressa be prohibited from entering the Palace.  

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea then said Rappler has lost its Malacañang Press Corps accreditation because of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) decision revoking Rappler's registration even if the SEC itself said that the decision is not yet final and executory. (READ: Rappler to Malacañang: Don't use power to obstruct)

The sudden decision was in contrast with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque’s previous statement that Rappler can continue covering Malacañang since the Court of Appeals has yet to decide on the petition. 

The incident comes after the Senate hearing on the Philippine Navy frigates deal to which Special Assistant to the President Bong Go was called after reports by Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. (READ: Rappler statement on Bong Go's fake news accusation)

According to Conde, the Duterte administration “renewed its assault on the media” by preventing access to Malacañang. Barely two years into his presidency, Duterte and his government have continuously threatened several media outlets. (READ: From Marcos to Duterte: How media was attacked, threatened)

“They should also take this opportunity to show their support for a free press,” Conde said. –

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.