[OPINION | Newspoint] The elephant in the room
President Duterte can deny it all he likes, but there's just no way he can dispel the suspicion that he is behind the move to drive the news website Rappler out of business.
All the Securities and Exchange Commission did was formalize the judgment; it pronounced Rappler guilty under the law that requires all Philippine-registered companies to be owned wholly by Filipinos and revoked its permit to operate. But the inspiration, if not the signal, could only have come from Duterte, going down to the Office of the Solicitor General, which enlisted the SEC, which in turn held consultations with the Department of Justice. The chain of collusion is not denied.
Duterte himself has not bothered to conceal his violent displeasure at Rappler's reporting and opinion making; every time he voices it he does so cussing. He was in fact the first to accuse Rappler of foreign ownership; in no less public an occasion than his nationally televised State of the Nation Address in midyear last year, he claimed that Rappler "is fully owned by Americans."
Again, the not-too-subtle hint was picked up down the line. Rappler reporter Pia Ranada says that, as a matter of course, she is given the "mean treatment" on the presidential beat. But the meanness does not stop her.
Nor does it stop Rappler. It continues to operate, and intends to fight the SEC judgment "all the way up to the Supreme Court," says Rappler founder and CEO Maria Ressa, who contends that SEC mistakenly applied the provision on "depositary receipts". That financial instrument, says Ressa, citing precedents, allows a corporation to accept investments without ceding any measure of ownership, making an investor's nationality irrelevant.
In any case, the violation is something that can be easily rectified and surely does not call for such extreme sanction as shutting down a business, let alone one that performs a critical public service. But, then, that option is too reasonable and too benign to fit into the presidential agenda.
Indeed, how can Duterte's hand be overlooked in the Rappler affair — it's the elephant in the room!
Duterte is the type who cannot abide dissent. It's all part of his "antisocial narcissistic personality", a diagnosis that has been a matter of public record since his wife took him to court for the annulment of their marriage, and won.
As an autocratic mayor of his provincial home city of Davao, down south, for more than two decades, Duterte could only have carried into the presidency the habits, predispositions, and other compulsions indulged by his sycophantic underlings. It was relatively easy, naturally, for a potentate like him to have his high-handed way in a sociopolitical setting where patronage is the operating culture.
That he has been able to operate in about the same way as president, and yet remains popular — if the polls are to be believed — only reveals the nation's debased sense of moral and political values.
A monthly average of nearly a thousand are killed in his war on drugs — mostly by vigilantes, the police always claim, as if they were operating on different sponsorships or inspirations.
A senator has been thrown in jail not only on the testimonies of life convicts but on charges the state has yet to determine.
The chief justice is being dragged through the process of impeachment in Congress on a complaint brought by an obscure lawyer who, admittedly, simply heard things.
To be sure, these crimes go beyond personal assaults; these are assaults on the rule of law and human rights, on political freedom, and on judicial independence.
And the assault on Rappler is an assault on press freedom.
If all that does not constitute murder of democracy, I don't know what does. – Rappler.com