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Rappler no longer accredited for Malacañang coverage – Palace official

MANILA, Philippines – Shortly after Malacañang assured Rappler that it can cover Palace events pending its appeal of a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ruling revoking its business registration, a senior Palace official said the news organization can no longer do so unless its reporter is accredited “in some other capacity.”

Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday, February 20, issued the clarification in a text message to Rappler’s Palace reporter, Pia Ranada.

In a press conference earlier in the day, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque quoted Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea as saying that Rappler can continue covering Palace events pending a final court ruling on the SEC’s decision to revoke Rappler’s license. Rappler has appealed the SEC ruling with the Court of Appeals (CA).

“Pia, there might have been a little miscommunication. The ES' position as relayed to Spokes Harry is this: Unless the CA issues a TRO against the SEC ruling (which voided Rappler's registration), Rappler's accreditation with the Malacañang Press Corps has accordingly ceased,” Guevarra said in a text message to Ranada.

“Consequently, you may not cover media events at the Palace as an individual journalist unless you get accredited in some other capacity,” he added.

In a statement, Rappler said the move is "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)

Censorship

Jose Manuel "Chel" Diokno, dean of the De La Salle University (DLSU) College of Law, said that even without a TRO, the case is still a pending legal issue.

"Government must respect the fact that the case is still with the Court of Appeals...It is a direct way of preventing Rappler from reporting in Malacañang. This is a form of censorship," Diokno said.

He said government should respect the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. "If the SEC said its decision is not final and executory, government cannot preempt the CA. It should respect that and wait for the court's decision."

The move by Malacañang will have a "chilling effect on other journalists of other media organizations who may want to publish stories critical of government," Diokno added.

In the earlier press conference, Roque said: "The Executive Secretary just issued a verbal statement that pending appeal, you will be able to cover here in Malacañang....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 is sustained, Rappler will have to transfer to FOCAP. But for now, the decision is, while pending appeal, Rappler can cover Malacañang." 

By FOCAP, he meant the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, an organization of foreign media organizations based in Manila, whose members are accredited by the International Press Center under the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

Duterte's order

After Roque issued the statement, Ranada received a text message from Palace official, Jhopee Avanceña, head of Malacañang's Internal House Affairs Office (IHAO), who told her that President Rodrigo Duterte himself ordered the official to ensure that Ranada would not be allowed in Palace premises beginning Tuesday.

The President gave the order to Avanceña Tuesday midnight, hours after the Senate hearing on the Philippine Navy frigates deal, where Special Assistant to the President Bong Go accused Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer of reporting "fake news" on the Navy project. 

Rappler has refuted the allegation, saying the story on the frigates deal was based on documents whose authenticity was never challenged. (READ: Rappler statement on Bong Go's fake news accusationwith a report from Pia Ranada/Rappler