MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte's ban on Rappler journalists has extended to cover even campaign sorties of his party, PDP-Laban.
On Sunday, March 24, Rappler correspondent Bobby Lagsa was asked by representatives of Malacañang's Media Accreditation and Relations Office (MARO) to leave the senatorial campaign rally, where Duterte was going to speak, after learning from the city information office that he was reporting for Rappler.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on Monday, March 25, posted on its Facebook page about Lagsa's “eviction” from the University of Science and Technology in Southern Philippines (USTP) in Barangay Lapasan, the venue of the rally.
The NUJP documents incidents of attacks on press freedom and journalists.
Lagsa is a journalist based in Cagayan de Oro. Aside from reporting for Rappler, he also covers Mindanao for foreign media outlets. (STORIES by Bobby Lagsa for Rappler: Eyewitness to the Marawi siege | Marawi soldiers fight the biggest battle of the lives | Plight of the Badjao: Forgotten, nameless, faceless | Dapitan City racing against time to save heritage structures | Rescued kids tell tale of life inside Marawi war zone | A painful homecoming for Marawi evacuees)
Cagayan de Oro is also the hometown of PDP-Laban president Koko Pimentel, who is running for reelection.
The Cagayan de Oro rally of PDP-Laban was hosted by Mayor Oscar Moreno and the party's local council, according to the PDP-Laban advisory.
On Saturday, March 23, Lagsa told the Rappler news desk that he had signed up for Sunday's campaign coverage through the city information office. In the afternoon, however, he was told by Rhoel Condeza of the CIO that the MARO gave explicit instructions not to allow any Rappler journalist to cover.
On Sunday afternoon, Lagsa went outside the venue to listen to candidates' speeches and interview people who were attending the rally. President Duterte had not arrived then. Lagsa took a break to have dinner at the USTP canteen.
As he was going out of the canteen, two men, whom he believed belonged to the Presidential Security Group, approached him to ask for what outlet he was covering. When he replied "Rappler," they told him he would have to leave the premises.
A MARO staff member told him the same thing, and asked him to leave "bago magkahiyaan" (to avoid embarrassment). Lagsa was then escorted to the university gates.
The order to prevent province-based correspondents from Duterte's events stems from the President's original ban covering Malacañang reporter Pia Ranada and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa. The Palace justified the ban by citing the Securities and Exchange Commission decision to revoke Rappler's license, a decision the SEC itself said is not yet final and executory. Malacañang also said Duterte's ban was due to his annoyance at Rappler's reporting. (READ: From Cory to Rody: Presidents and their beef with Palace reporters)
A year ago, in March 2018, when Duterte's ban was extended to provincial journalists, Rappler condemned the move as a "display of abuse of power to intimidate independent journalists." In a statement, Rappler said: "It is an attack – not just on Rappler but on the local media outlets and journalists’ associations that our stringers belong to. It is an affront – to the locals, whose homegrown watchdogs are not allowed to be the voice of their communities."
Duterte has been going around the country to campaign for the senatorial candidates of PDP-Laban, in many occasions also endorsing local candidates who are rivals with the ones being endorsed by his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte. – Rappler.com