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MANILA, Philippines – In a blow to press freedom, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on January 11 revoked Rappler’s license for allegedly violating the Constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law.
The decision, which the SEC published on its website on January 15, was the first of its kind for the SEC and Philippine media. (READ: FAQ: Rappler’s SEC case)
In a statement, Rappler said, “What this means for you, and for us, is that the Commission is ordering us to close shop, to cease telling you stories, to stop speaking truth to power, and to let go of everything that we have built – and created – with you since 2012.” (READ: Stand with Rappler, defend press freedom)
Here’s a rundown of events surrounding Rappler’s case.
The SEC on December 22, 2016, receives a letter from Office of the Solicitor General dated December 14, 2016, asking the SEC to investigate Rappler over its Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs).
A PDR is a financial instrument that allows foreigners to invest in a Filipino company, without owning any part of it. This is consistent with the 1987 Constitution, which states that mass media in the Philippines should be wholly owned by Filipinos.
Rappler is not furnished a copy of the letter from the Office of the Solicitor General. We were formally notified of why the investigation began when we received the decision.
Rappler appears before the SEC on February 28, 2017, in response to a notice of conference from the SEC’s Company Registration and Monitoring Department.
The SEC creates a special panel on July 8, 2017, to conduct a formal, in-depth examination into Rappler Inc and its parent company, Rappler Holdings Corporation. The panel is tasked to review possible violations of nationality restrictions on ownership and control of mass media entities.
Days later, in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte claims Rappler is “fully owned by Americans,” and warns the media outlet that this violates the 1987 Constitution.
Rappler debunks these allegations, and states it is 100% Filipino-owned. (READ: Debunking lies about Rappler)
Rappler receives on August 1, 2017, a show cause order from the SEC panel directing it to file a sworn statement within 15 days.
On August 17, 2017, Rappler files a request for extension, which the SEC grants on August 23, 2017.
A few days later, on August 29, 2017, Rappler files its verified explanation.
The SEC’s special panel on September 27, 2017, orders Rappler to submit documents including a true copy of the North Base Media (NBM) PDRs, as well as the incorporation documents of ON, NBM Rappler Inc, and NBM.
Rappler files requested documents on October 12, 2017.
January 15, 2018
After just 5 months of review, the SEC publishes on its website its decision dated January 11, 2018, to void Rappler’s ON PDR and revoke its license to operate for allegedly violating the Constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law.
It also forwards its decision to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for appropriate investigation.
In a statement, the company urges its readers and viewers to defend press freedom.
In response, Malacañang says it respects the SEC decision and adds the issue at hand is about compliance with the Constitution, not freedom of the press.
January 16, 2018
A day later, Solicitor General Jose Calida says the DOJ will now look into Rappler’s criminal liability for allegedly violating the Anti-Dummy Law.
In the meantime, SEC Spokesperson Arman Pan says Rappler can still continue its operations while its decision is not yet “final and executory.” Pan adds the company can exhaust all legal remedies and can appeal to the Court of Appeals (CA) within 15 days.
Malacañang also says the DOJ now has “legal basis” to file charges against Rappler.
Reacting to the issue, Vice President Leni Robredo says the public should be “concerned” over efforts to curtail press freedom.
In response, Rappler says, “The President knows who produces fake news in the Philippines, and it certainly is not Rappler. He doesn’t have to look far from where he sits in Malacañang.”
January 17, 2018
A few days after the SEC published its decision, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II orders the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct a case build up against Rappler for “possible violation of the Constitution and laws.”
Rappler slams the NBI’s probe as a “fishing expedition,” adding the move is pure and simple harassment.
Rappler lawyer Francis Lim also says the SEC’s decision regarding an allegedly unconstitutional PDR is “too severe.”
The SEC, however, says its stands firm in its decision to strip Rappler of its license to operate.
In a press conference, Roque changes tune and suggests that Rappler can apply for blogger accreditation if it loses its license.
One of Rappler’s PDR investors, Marcus Brauchli of North Base Media, hits former journalist Roberto Tiglao and questions the SEC’s ruling.
In addition to this, international media outlets, such as the New York Times (NYT), condemn the SEC’s order.
January 18, 2018
The NBI sends subpoenas to Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr over a complaint for violation of the cybercrime law. Businessman Benjamin Bitanga – incorporator of Dolphin Fire, which is a shareholder in Rappler Holdings – is also sent a subpoena.
The complaint, which was filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng, is in relation to a story published in 2012. The 2012 Rappler report said Keng allegedly lent his SUV to the late former chief justice Renato Corona.
Ressa says the timing of the cyber libel complaint “is suspicious.”
“It’s a 2012 article, and again what we were told is this is coincidental, but too much of a coincidence creates a pattern,” the Rappler CEO says.
Meanwhile, Aguirre says the DOJ will also look into “other laws” violated by Rappler, adding that investigations will not be limited to corporate foreign control and possible violation of the Anti-Dummy Law.
January 19, 2018
In response to speculation that the Commission will look into other media outlets, the SEC says it will not review the PDRs of listed media firms ABS-CBN and GMA-7, as these were offered to the public.
In response to criticism on its issued subpoenas, the NBI says Rappler could still be liable for cybercrime even if the law is not retroactive.
Later that evening, journalists and bloggers join the #BlackFridayForPressFreedom gathering at the Boy Scout Circle, the roundabout at Timog and Tomas Morato intersection in Quezon City, to defend press freedom.
January 22, 2018
Ressa appears before the NBI for an initial hearing over a subpoena the department issued over a complaint on cyber libel.
An international law group, The International Commission of Jurists, expresses concern over the possible impact of the SEC’s decision on Rappler, warning the move “constitutes a significant restriction on freedom of expression.”
January 25, 2018
The Philippine government, in a letter to the editor published on January 24 from Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez, criticizes the NYT for publishing an editorial on the SEC’s ruling.
January 26, 2018
United Nations special rapporteur Agnes Callamard along with two other experts slam moves to shut down Rappler. In a joint statement, the UN rapporteurs say, “We are especially concerned that this move against Rappler comes at a time of rising rhetoric against independent voices in the country.”
January 29, 2018
Rappler challenges the SEC ruling before the Court of Appeals.
The move marks the start of Rappler’s court battle to fight for its corporate existence.
February 1, 2018
Rappler submits to the NBI counter-affidavits against the cyber libel complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng.
In their counter-affidavits, Ressa and Santos argue there was no crime of cyber libel because the article that is the subject of the complaint was published in May 2012 while the Cybercrime Prevention Act was later enacted in September 2012. All criminal laws are not retroactive.
February 20, 2018
The order is given at midnight, hours after a 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. (READ: Rappler statement on Bong Go’s fake news accusation)
The ban is extended to Ressa.
February 21, 2018
Ranada is banned from entering the entire Malacañang complex.
Meanwhile, Brigadier General Lope Dagoy, Presidential Security Group commander, says Ranada should be grateful the PSG member who stopped who stopped her at the Malacañang gate on February 20 didn’t hurt her. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says Dagoy’s remark is “uncalled for.”
Roque later says Ranada is barred from the Palace because Duterte is irritated with the reporter.
The Malacañang Press Corps issues a statement that Ranada remains an MPC member unless the Court of Appeals upholds the SEC’s decision to revoke Rappler’s license.
February 22, 2018
The NBI junks the libel complaint filed against Rappler by business Wilfredo Keng.
According to NBI Cybercrime Division chief Manuel Antonio Eduarte, the NBI’s legal and evaluation service finds the complaint without basis since the one-year prescriptive period for libel has lapsed.
On the issue of barring Ranada from Malacañang, Roque explains Duterte has as much a right to ban a reporter as a homeowner who would throw out a rude guest from his home.
Meanwhile, Duterte speaks publicly for the first time about his order to ban Ranada and Ressa from Malacañang. He tells reporters in Iloilo that his order is meant to enforce the SEC ruling against Rappler.
February 23, 2018
SEC Chairperson Teresita Herbosa says that while the SEC’s decision is not yet final and executory, Malacañang can independently decide to ban the news site’s reporters from Palace coverage. (READ: Rappler to Malacañang: Don’t use power to obstruct)
February 28, 2018
Omidyar Network donates its PDRs to 14 Rappler managers.
Omidyar partner Stephen King says the donation eliminates the sole basis of the SEC ruling against Rappler. But Herbosa says the move is for the CA to assess, adding, “The SEC decision’s legal basis has not changed insofar as SEC is concerned.”
In a statement, Rappler says Omidyar’s “generous act proves that Rappler is, as it has always been, Filipino-owned and -controlled.”
March 1, 2018
Roque says Omidyar’s donation was an “admission” that Rappler violated the Constitution.
Rappler, however, maintains that the Omidyar PDRs did not go against the constitutional requirement of Filipino ownership of media entities. It also maintains that the SEC ruling and the ban on Rappler coverage of Malacañang are attacks on press freedom.
March 8, 2018
The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) files a tax evasion case against Rappler.
In its complaint, the BIR says Rappler Holdings Corporation, together with Ressa and company treasurer James Bitanga “wilfully attempted to evade tax payments and failed to provide information in its income tax and value-added tax (VAT) returns for 2015.”
It is the 5th government agency to go after Rappler since Duterte claimed it was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency and referred to it as a “fake news outlet.” The other 4 agencies include: the National Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice, Office of the Solicitor General and the SEC.
March 9, 2018
Rappler gets confirmation that the NBI recommended to the DOJ on March 2, that the social news network be prosecuted for cyber libel over the same story involved in a case that the Cybercrime Division had earlier junked. NBI Cybercrime Division Chief Manuel Antonio Eduarte said the case had “no basis” and declared it closed on February 22.
When pursued for an explanation, he refuses to entertain questions from Rappler, and says Rappler should talk to the NBI director. NBI Director Dante Gierran, however, does not respond to Rappler’s request. In a statement, Rappler questions why the NBI would risk its credibility and reputation in reversing its own ruling, and asks whether there are instructions from higher-ups.
March 12, 2018
NBI director Dante Gierran explains the information about the cyber libel complaint earlier announced as “case closed” was “prematurely disclosed.”
April 25, 2018
In a counter-affidavit to the cyber libel case before the DOJ, Ressa says the allegations against her are “baffling and unfounded.”
May 7, 2018
In a joint counter-affidavit filed before the DOJ, Rappler Holdings Corporation and Rappler CEO Ressa accuse the BIR of “selective justice” in the tax evasion case.
Rappler Holdings and Ressa say the BIR filed its complaint “on the theory that RHC acted as a ‘dealer in security'” in relation to its issuance of PDRs. This theory, they add, “is factually and, per our lawyers, legally baseless,” as “RHC is not a dealer in security.”
They explain that the elements of tax evasion “are not present” in this case.
July 26, 2018
In a 72-page decision, the Court of Appeals upholds SEC’s decision that Omidyar Network’s PDRs constitutes “some foreign control,” but says Rappler “must be given ‘reasonable time’ to correct the disputed parts of deal.”
The CA remands Rappler’s registration case to the SEC to evaluate the legal effect of Omidyar Network’s donation of its PDRs to Rappler staff. In addition, the court notes Omidyar’s waiver of its rights in the PDR instrument in December 2017, and Omidyar’s affirmation that it has never exercised such rights.
The CA agrees these acts “show the intention to comply in good faith with the regulations of the SEC.” It also points out that, in the past, the SEC “had pursued a policy that the revocation of the certificate of registration should be the last resort.”
The CA notes the SEC has allowed other corporations like ABS-CBN, GMA, and Globe to issue PDRs
August 17, 2018
Rappler files a partial motion for reconsideration with the CA, asking it to annul and set aside SEC’s January 2018 decision.
It is essentially asking the CA to make a definitive ruling that would revoke the SEC’s shutdown order which was based on its finding that Rappler is not 100% Filipino-owned.
March 11, 2019
The Court of Appeals (CA) denies the motion for partial reconsideration filed by Rappler and upholds its earlier findings that the company’s foreign investment amounted to prohibited foreign control of a media company.
The appellate court reiterates its earlier ruling that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) should review its previous order revoking Rappler’s license in light of the donation to Filipino managers of shares previously held by Omidyar Network.
In a statement, Rappler says it expects the SEC to “now review its order and we continue to trust that the rule of law will be followed under a democratic government.” (READ: FAQs: Rappler SEC case)
March 20, 2019
Rappler asks the Supreme Court for a 30-day extension to appeal the CA decision.
May 24, 2019
Rappler receives notice that SC has granted its motion for extension, but decides not to push through with the appeal.
June 28, 2022
SEC issues order affirming its decision to revoke Rappler’s certificates of incorporation, adding in a statement later that it “merely puts in effect its earlier decision and those of [CA].”
Rappler’s chief legal counsel Francis Lim says it is not final as the order can be appealed, and that “based on our study, the SEC cannot enforce the decision pending appeal.”
January 18, 2023
The Philippines’ Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) acquits Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corporation of four charges of tax evasion.
The victory ends more than four years of trial of a case filed in March 2018 during the Duterte administration.
– with Michael Bueza and Jodesz Gavilan/Rappler.com
More information on Rappler’s cases: