Liberal Party senators led the criticism of the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission to revoke the registration of online news website Rappler.
Senate/PRIB, File
Senators: Rappler shutdown 'straight from Marcos' playbook'
Audrey Morallo (philstar.com) - January 15, 2018 - 6:18pm

MANILA, Philippines —  A barrage of criticisms greeted the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission to revoke the registration of news outfit Rappler over allegations that it violated the Constitution and the country's anti-dummy law.

Many of the critical reactions color the SEC decision as an affront to the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of the press and of speech in the country, a charge that Malacañang denies.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros described the revocation of the news website's registration as "pure harassment and an attack on press freedom" and urged it to "hold the line."

She described the move as "Marcosian" taken "straight out of the dictator's playbook."

"I urge the public and all media practitioners to defend press freedom and the right to speak the truth to power," Hontiveros said in a statement on Twitter.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, who claimed in a national speech that Rappler was foreign owned, said that the revocation of the news website's registration was meant to "muzzle the few remaining independent media outfits in the country."

"It would also send a chilling message to other media entities to force them to tow the Administration's propaganda lines," the opposition senator said in a statement.

Malacañang however denied this, and said this could not be seen as an attack on media organizations in the country as it was the 1987 Constitution that barred foreign ownership.

"[It] can't be. It's the Constitution that prohibits foreign ownership in mass media," Roque told Philstar.com when asked if the revocation could be seen as a step undermining freedom of the press.

Both Trillanes and Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, the president of the opposition Liberal Party, called on the people to come together and fight for freedom of the press.

"It would also send a chilling message to other media entities to force them to tow the Administration's propaganda lines," Pangilinan said.

The shutdown of Rappler, according to Sen. Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino, was a "win for fake news" and a loss for dissenting voices and free speech.

Rep. Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna) described the cancellation of Rappler's registration, effectively stripping it of its license to operate in the country, as an "affront on press freedom."

Sen. Grace Poe, a member of the majority caucus in the Senate, struck a more careful tone and said that she would not pass judgment on the SEC decision yet.

Poe said that the SEC should ascertain the violations that Rappler had committed, stressing that the decision should not be used to silence groups or organizations that reported on public interest issues.

"I will not say if it's right or wrong because there are processes that must be followed. What is important is news organizations or opinions are not suppressed," she told reporters in Filipino.

Bayan Muna Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. said that whatever legal argument was used to justify revoking Rappler's license the decision would always be seen as an attack on freedom of the press.

"There's just no other way the regime can spin it," he said on Twitter.

In a separate statement, he said that the decision was "hypocritical," claiming that Duterte's moves to amend the Constitution were meant to allow 100 percent ownership of media.

Phelime Kine, the deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said that the SEC decision would send a "profound chilling effect" on media freedom and would result in self-censorship.

"Philippines government move to shutter Rappler media platform [is] nothing less than a politicized attack on media freedom," HRW's Kine said.

He added that the closure move suggested a "weaponization of state regulator processes" to stifle the freedom of news organizations and an extension of Duterte's war on accountability.

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