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MANILA, Philippines – The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said it “views with concern” the decision of news website Inquirer.net to take down a story on the supposed monetary donation made by House Speaker Martin Romualdez to Harvard University for its Filipino language course.
The takedown reportedly prompted the resignation of Rene Ciria-Cruz, the website’s US editor.
“While newsrooms have editorial prerogative – takedowns of articles, especially of potentially inconvenient ones – often raise more questions and generate more attention than the original,” read a statement from NUJP on Monday, September 18.
“When done arbitrarily, they always build resentment among staff and affect a masthead’s credibility,” the group added. “That the takedown was met with little outcry or follow-up also points to the chill that has pervaded the media community in recent years.”
On August 29, US-based magazine The FilAm published an exclusive story saying that Romualdez donated $1 million to enable Harvard to hire a Filipino language instructor.
On August 31, Inquirer.net, which had a content partnership deal with The Filam, republished the story, but it was subsequently taken down.
The FilAm updated its article on its own website to note that the Inquirer.net article “was deactivated by order of the owners, who are related to House Speaker Martin Romualdez.”
The Inquirer Group of Companies – of which Inquirer.net is under – is led by Sandy Prieto Romualdez, whose husband Philip is the brother of Speaker Martin.
Both stories by The FilAm and The Harvard Crimson cited well-placed sources who spoke with them on the condition of anonymity.
Harvard officials have declined to disclose the identity of the donor, in accordance with their gift policy.
Romualdez himself, in a statement sent to the media on Sunday, September 17, neither confirmed nor denied whether he made a donation to Harvard.
Rappler sought comment from Inquirer.net about the takedown, but we have yet to receive a response.
Since the original article was removed from Inquirer.net’s website, it has only published one article mentioning Romualdez’s supposed donation – a column from Inquirer USA on Wednesday, September 13.
It did not write about Romualdez’s statement on the matter, as well as the concerns raised by some groups through press releases.
Why was the donation controversial?
Numerous groups are concerned by the lack of transparency on the donation, if indeed true.
Progressive group Alliance of Concerned Teachers is seeking assurance from Romualdez that the donation did not come from government funds.
Advocacy organization US Filipinos for Good Governance said the sources of the $2 million should be disclosed, and reminded Romualdez that “his uncle was overthrown in 1986 by the Filipino People [Power] Revolution against unprecedented corruption.”
Romualdez’s net worth in 2016 – the last time he made his financial records public – was P475 million. A $2-million donation would account for 25% of his wealth in 2016.
The group Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law also called the supposed donation a “vanity project” aimed at “rehabilitating the Marcos name.”
Romualdez is a seasoned lawmaker who easily secured the House speakership after his cousin President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. came to power in 2022.
He maintains a super majority alliance in the House of Representatives, an institution whose independence has been questioned by critics.
Romualdez said on Sunday that he does not want the controversy surrounding the supposed donation to overshadow the “significant milestone achieved” in introducing a Filipino language course at Harvard.
“This is a remarkable acknowledgment of our culture and heritage on a global platform,” he said. “I firmly believe in promoting and preserving our Filipino identity, and this step by Harvard is a testament to that effort.” – Rappler.com