Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Rappler will be allowed to cover Palace events while it appeals the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoking its license, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said on Tuesday noon, February 20.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque issued the clarification after presidential security initially barred this reporter from entering the premises of the New Executive Building (NEB) which houses the press working area, the Palace briefing room, and the Presidential Communications Operations Office, among other Palace offices.
"The Executive Secretary just issued a verbal statement that pending appeal, you will be able to cover here in Malacañang," Roque said in press briefing later that morning, when asked about the policy targetting Rappler.
But a few hours later, a Palace official clarified that Rappler was no longer accredited to cover the Office of the President. (READ: Rappler no longer accredited for Malacañang coverage)
It was President Rodrigo Duterte himself who decided to ban Ranada and Rappler CEO/Executive Editor Maria Ressa from entering Malacañang. Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Rappler's "accreditation with the Malacañang Press Corps has accordingly ceased" following the Securities and Exchange Commission's order, which is not final and is pending with the Court of Appeals, nullifying the company's registration papers. (READ: Rappler takes case to Court of Appeals)
Previous to this, Roque said that according to the most senior Cabinet official, if the court sustains the SEC decision, then Rappler would have to be accredited by the Foreign Association of Correspondents of the Philippines (FOCAP), which groups representatives of foreign media organizations based in Manila.
"The answer given by the Executive Secretary is yes, because they have a pending appeal, but after the Court of Appeals decides and if the decision of the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) is sustained, Rappler will have to transfer to FOCAP. But for now, the decision is, while pending appeal, Rappler can cover Malacañang," said Roque.
In its decision, the SEC accused Rappler of violating constitutional restrictions on ownership and control of mass media entities because of funds coming from Omidyar Network, a fund created by eBay founder and entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar. (READ Rappler's statement: Stand with Rappler, defend press freedom)
Asked how Medialdea's statement affects the orders given to the Presidential Security Group (PSG) by a still unnamed higher official, Roque said, "I do not know."
He advised Rappler to "make representations" with the Office of the Executive Secretary so the OES can inform the PSG of Medialdea's statement.
He told Rappler to "inform them that you have a pending appeal."
'Dislike' not valid reason
Roque was also asked at the press conference if an official's personal "dislike" for specific reporters would be sufficient grounds to bar them from entering Malacañang.
The President's spokesman said this is not valid basis but that Rappler's case is "different."
"It's not a ground because someone dislikes you, no! But Rappler’s case is different. There's an actual SEC decision saying they're controlled by foreigners," said Roque.
Asked how the order to the PSG affects Malacañang's commitment to uphold press freedom, Roque insisted the government respects the rights of media.
"There's no denying of press freedom," he said.
The PSG attempted to impose the "order" a day after the Senate hearing on the Navy frigate deal, where Special Assistant to the President Bong Go tagged as "fake news" reports by Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer that he allegedly intervened in the deal. (READ: Rappler statement on Bong Go's fake news accusation) – Rappler.com