File photo shows a member of the Presidential Security Group barring reporter Pia Ranada from entering Malacañan complex.
The STAR/Alexis Romero
Rappler asks SC: Can the president ban press from covering public events?
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - January 21, 2020 - 11:18am

MANILA, Philippines — Online news site Rappler has asked the Supreme Court to determine whether the president can ban a member of the press from coverage based on an accusation of being a “liar” or “fake news.”

In a 66-page Reply filed Monday, Rappler told the high court that the Palace ban on Rappler reporters and correspondents “is not rooted in any provision of the Constitution or a statute enacted by Congress,” but was based on a "hollow imputation of Executive Power in response" to President Rodrigo Duterte’s distrust on some members of the press.

The ban against Rappler staff started on Feb. 20, 2018, when a member of the Presidential Security Group banned Pia Ranada from entering Malacañang complex.

On March 1, 2018, Duterte said in a speech that he is banning Rappler reporters from events where he will be in attendance.

The announcement came a day after Christopher “Bong” Go, Duterte's longtime aide and since elected a senator, said the news site delivers “fake news”—a comment often used for reports seen as critical of the administration.

In April 2019, Rappler reporters sought relief from the SC and assailed Duterte’s order to prohibit them from covering his public events.

‘Pretextual’ accreditation

"Involved here is the invocation of executive power and an attempt by the Government to directly interfere in the workings of the Philippine Press," Rappler stressed before the court.

"The question posed by Petitioners affects intersecting fundamental rights under the Constitution. Thus, the Honorable Court is duty-bound to demarcate clearer borderlines between the Press and the executive Branch, which is a settled disposition of Hierarchy of Courts," it added.

Rappler then argued the SC has the power to “determine whether or not Executive Power includes the power to brand a member of the Press as ‘liar’ or ‘fake news’ or ban a member of the Press from covering newsworthy public events...involving the presence and participation of the Chief Executive.”

Palace accreditaion needed

Rappler pointed out that the government, through a Comment filed by the Office of the Solicitor General, invoked accreditation and registration requirements from the Media Accreditation Registration Office and International Press Center.

OSG said that Rappler’s accreditation with the IPC and MARO expired on December 2017. While Ranada filed for an application in 2018, the IPC denied it due to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s ruling that revoked the media company’s Certificate of Incorporation.

The online news company assailed the SEC ruling before the Court of Appeals. The appellate court sent the case back to the SEC to evaluate the legal effect of the supposed donation by foreign investor Omidyar Network of all its Philippine Depositary Receipts to Rappler staff.

A PDR is a financial instrument allowing foreigners to invest in a Filipino company without owning any part of it.

Rappler raised that the “accreditation requirement” is merely “pretextual,” or merely a justification of the ban that Duterte had announced.

“As the ban was directed by the highest administrative officer of the executive branch, respondents, who are his subordinate officers, cannot be expected to disobey, much more countermand, the directive of the Chief Executive,” it added.

 It stressed: “A Chief Executive who bans an entire media organization on a personal determination that it is ‘fake news’ is not ordinary business in Constitution-based society.”

OFFICE OF THE SOLICITOR GENERAL RAPPLER SUPREME COURT
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