SEC closure order of Rappler draws outrage

Media and human rights groups as well as opposition lawmakers condemned the SEC ruling, saying it could signal more and fiercer attacks on basic freedom. File

SEC closure order of Rappler draws outrage
(The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2018 - 12:01am

MANILA, Philippines — More denunciations greeted yesterday the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)’s revocation of the license of Rappler.

Media and human rights groups as well as opposition lawmakers condemned the SEC ruling, saying it could signal more and fiercer attacks on basic freedom.

In canceling Rappler’s license, the SEC cited the online news platform’s violation of the constitutional provisions on foreign ownership.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) said the decision has a chilling effect on media organizations in the country.

“Journalists must be able to work independently in an environment free from intimidation and harassment. An assault against journalists is an assault against democracy,” Focap said in a statement.

The Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines (PCP) urged the SEC to review its decision.

“We acknowledge the regulatory power of the state over media companies in the country, however, we firmly stand with the promotion of press freedom and people’s right to information,” PCP said.

“PCP strongly condemns any form of intimidation and harassment of media practitioners behind the SEC decision that can serve as precedent to silence other media outfits,” it added.

Luis Teodoro, former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication and national chair of Altermidya, also scored the SEC for undermining press freedom and freedom of expression.

The decision, he said, was issued “amid such glaring indications of rising dictatorship as the threat of term extension with the impending Charter change, the no-elections scenario and the hasty approval of the extension of martial law in Mindanao.”

Ironically, he said, President Duterte had declared his support for foreign ownership of Philippine media entities.

“We have always been supportive of the constitutional ban on foreign ownership of media, but will oppose its use to silence the press,” Teodoro said.

“The decision to suppress Rappler for supposedly violating the constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of media can only be interpreted as part of a scheme to silence critical media and to instill fear among media practitioners committed to reporting the truth in behalf of transparency in the current regime, and to hold it to account,” he added.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), for its part, expressed fear the SEC decision would be followed by bolder infringement on press freedom.

“If the statement of Rappler is true as regards its ownership and due process was not observed, then this is something that is deeply concerning in the context of press freedom,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.

“The field of journalism has provided propagation of truthful insights, educating and inviting the attention of the curious, including the less knowledgeable,” she said.

“The Philippines, being a democratic and republican state, subscribes to the thesis that human dignity is best determined when there exists freedom in exchanges of views,” she added.

Phelim Kine, deputy director for Asia of Human Rights Watch, said the SEC decision suggests a sinister use of state regulatory powers to stifle critics.

“The Philippine media is just the latest in a growing list of institutions and individuals – including United Nations officials – who have been vilified by Duterte for seeking accountability for human rights violations,” he said.

“If Duterte succeeds in silencing Rappler, it will have a profound chilling effect on Philippine media freedom, encouraging self-censorship by reporters and media outlets fearful of government reprisals for critical reporting at a time when the watchdog role of a free press is more urgently needed than ever,” he added.

Why the rush?

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the SEC could have just directed Rappler to correct its mistake – if at all there’s any – instead of cancelling its license outright.

“I don’t want to comment on the merits but procedurally, couldn’t the SEC have given Rappler an opportunity to correct the structure, if indeed there was a violation?” Drilon said.

“As I’ve said, the way I understood it, there was an equivalent of a foreign equity; wasn’t it reasonable for the SEC to say, ‘we find you in violation and give you time to correct this violation,’ meaning to change the structure. This sends a chilling effect on the freedom of the press,” he added.

Sen. Leila de Lima said the SEC move could be “an alarm that signals state repression of the freedom of the press.”

De Lima, who is in detention, said that the SEC, which is supposed to be an apolitical institution, appears to have ignored the repercussions of its decision on constitutional liberties.

By coming out with the order, De Lima said that the SEC had allowed itself to be used as an instrument of the state to attack a media organization critical of the administration.

“Never was a media entity stripped by government of legal protection since the Marcos dictatorship. This fact alone should alarm each and every member of the media that the formality of their organizations’ corporate existence can now be threatened by this regime through the SEC with the Damocles’ Sword of juridical delegitimization,” De Lima said.

“We are thus fast approaching another fascist era in the Philippines. Before any hope is lost, the Filipino people must act in support of a free press and call for the restoration of democratic values in our government institutions,” she added.

Militant and opposition House members have also denounced the SEC decision.

“SEC’s cancellation of Rappler’s registration is a sick affront on press freedom!” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate declared.

His colleagues, Reps. Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis, Antonio Tinio and France Castro of the party-list Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and women’s group Gabriela, raised the same view.

“SEC’s decision revoking Rappler’s registration is an authoritarian measure and an attack against press freedom. This is a confirmation that the Duterte government is intolerant of a critical institution, especially from the media sector,” Casilao stressed.

“We denounce in the strongest terms the Duterte regime’s order to shut down Rappler. This is the most vicious attack yet on press freedom, spearheaded by no less than President Duterte himself,” Tinio said.

“SEC’s revocation of the certificate of incorporation of Rappler is an outright slap at the constitutionally protected freedom of expression and the right of the people to information,” Castro said.

Gabriela said the license revocation “constitutes one of the gravest attacks to press freedom in the post-1986 EDSA uprising period and projects a chilling reminder of the media crackdown under the Marcos dictatorship.”

“We are alarmed that the SEC has chosen to nitpick on Rappler’s alleged violation of the constitutional provision on foreign equity restrictions in order to shut down an entire media outfit, which has been openly criticized by President Duterte on several occasions,” it said.

Rep. Tom Villarin of party-list Akbayan, a member of the “Magnificent 7” bloc, called the SEC decision a “big blow to democracy.”

“Press freedom is a bastion of democracy, a cornerstone embedded in our Constitution, and a beacon for our freedoms to shine,” he said. 

“The Duterte administration is going on a killing spree, including that of a free press. It is a mockery of our freedoms and will lead to more repressive measures. A government that kills the truth will kill political dissent,” he said. –  Delon Porcalla, Marvin Sy, Mayen Jaymalin, Rhodina Villanueva

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