MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Lawmakers slammed President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to ban Rappler reporter Pia Ranada from entering Malacañang after his closest aide, Bong Go, faced a Senate probe due to stories by the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler.
"I'm very worried about the gradual destruction of the democratic institutions in our country, and this is it – a creeping dictatorship," said Senator Antonio Trillanes IV in a statement Tuesday, February 20.
Trillanes urged journalists to protest against this move, even if it means a boycott of Malacañang press briefings.
"If you allow it to be done to Pia Ranada, it can be done to anybody," Trillanes said in a mix of English and Filipino.
It was Duterte himself who ordered the head of Malacañang's Internal House Affairs Office to ensure that Ranada cannot enter Malacañang.
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)
Duterte's order came hours after Go, the special assistant to the President, faced a Senate hearing over a controversial frigate deal, which was exposed by both Inquirer and Rappler. Rappler reported that Go intervened in this P15.5-billion project to acquire Philippine warships.
On Tuesday, a senior Malacañang official also said Rappler is no longer accredited for Malacañang coverage.
This will be the case unless Rappler secures a temporary restraining order against a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ruling to revoke its license, said Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
Like Trillanes, other lawmakers criticized this move by Malacañang.
Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin said, "Barring Pia from Malacañang shows insecurity and contempt vs press freedom. If PDuts (President Duterte) can't stand scrutiny from a critical press, it only shows how a true-blood dictator behaves!"
Senator Grace Poe said she wants to know if there is a "legal reason" for Malacañang to bar Ranada from its premises.
Can Malacañang, she asked, "use the technicality" that the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler's license?
"But of course it sends a chilling effect," Poe said. "It might send the wrong message to our countrymen that there are certain freedoms that might be compromised, but I wouldn't speak that soon. We need to find out again the reason behind it."
Without explicitly mentioning Ranada's case, Senator Paolo Benigno IV stressed the need for "empowered journalists," adding that "Malacañang must learn to respect dissecting views."
"Enough of bullying those who disagree with the administration," Aquino said.
Liberal party president Senator Francis Pangilinan said, "This Malacanang action recalls the dark memories of Martial Law when media was silenced and freedom of the press was curtailed." – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.