'People's right to know rests on press freedom' – PCIJ

MANILA, Philippines – Freedom of the press does not only concern journalists but ordinary people's right to know, Philippine Center for Investigative for Journalism Executive Director Malou Mangahas said on Friday, January 19.

Mangahas made the statement at the Black Friday Protest for Freedom in Quezon City on Friday, which was attended by members of the media, campus journalists, progressive groups, and advocates to stand in solidarity in defending press freedom.

The gathering was held days after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ordered the to revocation of Rappler's business registration for alleged violation of foreign equity rules.  (READ: PH media goes black to protest threats against press freedom)

In her speech, Mangahas said suppressing press freedom is an attempt to curtail independent media coverage of pressing national issues. (READ: Suppressing media is suppressing people's demands – progressive groups, advocates)

"Ang press freedom po, dito po nakasandig ang ating people's right to know. Kung wala pong media na malaya, wala pong puwedeng mag-cover ng buo at walang hadlang tungkol sa Constituent Assembly, Charter Change, federalism, at pati na siguro sa revolutionary government," Mangahas said.

(The people's right to know rests on press freedom. If there were no independent media, no one can carry out a full, unhampered coverage of the Constituent Assembly, Charter Change, federalism, and perhaps, even the revolutionary government.)

Mangahas said the right to know is "the bedrock of other rights such as freedom from fear, undue punishment, good livehood, and education."

"We want to offer you this discussion because it's not only about the media but it's also about people's rights," she said in Filipino.

'Bully' in Malacañang

The veteran journalist also took a swipe at the Duterte administration for revoking Rappler's registration and its character assassination of administration critics and other media outfits. (READ: From Marcos to Duterte: How media was attacked, threatened)

"Sobra iyong punishment sa Rappler. Gusto rin po sana namin i-alok sa inyo na medyo malaki pa ang ibang suliranin na hinaharap natin. Alam po ninyo siguro 'yung hindi pagbigay ng prangkisa sa church media network ng mga religious stations. Nakalagay din sa bingit ang franchise application ng ABS-CBN. Nagkaroon din ng problema ang Inquirer," she said.

(The punishment for Rappler is too severe. We also would like to tell you that we also face other big problems. You probably knew that the church media network of religious stations was not able to get a franchise. ABS-CBN's franchise application is also in peril. Inquirer had problems too.)

"Ang akala ko po ang ating nahalal ay isang pangulo ngunit parang tila ang nangyari ay nagluklok tayo ng isang bully....Ang kanila pong gustong mangyari ay tayo ay matakot. (I thought we elected a president but it seems like we elected a bully. What they want to happen is for us to be intimidated)," Mangahas added

'Journalism not a crime'

Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa said on Friday that the Duterte administration had put "a lot of effort" to criminalize journalism when it should be looking at other issues.

"We’re just journalists and yet there is a lot of effort being put to turn journalism into a crime, which is, it shouldn't be. It isn't (a crime). There’s certainly many more crimes for the government authorities to look at," Ressa said.

On Wednesday, January 17, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct a case buildup against Rappler following the SEC decision based on a questionable clause in the Philippine Depositary Receipt (PDR) issued to its investor, Omidyar Network.

Ressa said on Friday that this move would have an impact on foreign investors eyeing Philippine companies. 

She added that Rappler was clearly being harassed by the Duterte administration, citing the subpoena from the NBI she received on Thursday, January 18, over a cyber libel complaint, or just days after the SEC order.

Aguirre had also said that aside from alleged violations cited in the SEC decision, the justice department will also look into "other laws" that Rappler may have violated.

"What we say in Rappler is that we continue to hold the line. We're not doing anything but journalism – that's speaking truth to power and that's what makes a democracy successful. We're not afraid and we won't be intimidated," said Ressa.

Harassment

Meanwhile, Voltaire Tupaz, editor of Move PH, Rappler's citizen engagement arm, maintained that the SEC ruling is media harassment.

"Ngayong gabi ay panahon ng paglaban at ang mga kasama ko ngayon ay handang lumaban kasama ng mga mamahayag sa Inquirer, ABS-CBN, at iba pang mamamahayag na patuloy na ginigipit ng pamahalaang ito," said Tupaz.

(The time to fight is now, and I am with journalists who are ready to fight, along with members of the Inquirer, ABS-CBN, and others who are continuously being harassed by this government.)

"Alam namin na ang labang ito ay laban ng bagong henerasyon ng mga mamamahayag. Kaya bilang pagpapakita ng suporta sa inyo, pakikiisa sa inyo, kami ay sasama sa inyo. Sabi namin, 'We will hold the line!' But the line is long," Tupaz added.

(We know that this fight is the fight of the new generation of journalists. To show our support for you, our solidarity with you, we are with you. We say,'We will hold the line!' But the line is long.)

President Rodrigo Duterte is known to hurl accusations against select media companies, particularly those that had made critical reports about his policies. A day after the SEC ruling, Duterte advised journalists to "criticize with moderation." (READ: Case vs Rappler not a freedom of the press issue? Please.)

Malacañang refuted claims that the President had a hand in the SEC ruling, though it was the government's counsel, Solicitor General Jose Calida, who had asked the regulator to investigate Rappler.

Several groups at home and abroad slammed the move as an "alarming attempt to silence independent journalism"and a "win for fake news." – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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