Rappler is in the news, hugging the headlines (both the printed words and blogs). It’s on the hot seat. And the person behind it, as we all know, is the seemingly formidable Maria Ressa (CEO), who was once with the News and Public Affairs of ABS-CBN.
I had a brief encounter with Maria Ressa at our home ground at the Parks and Wildlife Bureau (renamed Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife), Quezon Ave., Quezon City where Balintataw TV Production then administered by RM Awardee for Public Service and Communications Cecile Guidote- Alvarez was housed.
Guidote-Alvarez was then the producer and host of the long-running (from pre-martial law up to post-Edsa) weekly Balintataw Drama Anthology on TV including “Sanga-Sangang Daan” episode. I was part of the said weekly anthology starred by Julio Diaz, Suzette Ranillo, Ihman Esturco, Mars D. Cavestany, among others, in my capacity as production designer and scriptwriter with Baby Nebrida, Mars Cavestany and Domingo Landicho. The anthology which was actually a teleserye on pro- population management as its theme was co-directed by Nick Lizaso and Jose Mari Avellana.
The teleserye which got a good glowing review in Time Magazine caught the attention of CNN, specifically the segment host on “People and Earth Matters” Barbra Pyle herself who wrote to Guidote-Alvarez of her intention to come to the Philippines to do a coverage of the creators and actors of “Sanga-Sangang Daan.”
Eventually, segment host Pyle came to the country and interviewed all the people behind and in front of the camera, including Diaz, Ranillo, Esturco, etc. of said teleserye. Fortuitously, the TV series got an unprecedented ample global broadcast on CNN which featured an interview of all the actors involved.
I labored this point because to our surprise, we found out it was Maria Ressa who was CNN’s official contact person in the Philippines that time. This only proves that Ressa is well-connected internationally, a big fish indeed in an ocean overseas!
It is not surprising that Maria Ressa, being the CEO of Rappler.com matters more than anyone else in its chain of command. It’s a bit premature to condemn her yet because her case is appealable to the higher courts.
In the meantime, I would like to lay out the actual situation of Rappler.com, the most objective way possible based on the facts and viewpoints of some opinion makers in this country, including those of the so-called “nitpickers” reacting to the issue at hand.
To shut Rappler off online is a gross attack on press freedom. Some points that they have advanced to defend themselves, are pointed out as follows:
…In a record investigation time of 5 months and after President Duterte himself blasted Rappler in his second SONA in July 2017, the SEC released this ruling against us. This is pure and simple harassment, the seeming coup de grace to the relentless and malicious attacks against us since 2016.
…The SEC’s kill order revoking Rappler’s license to operate is the first of its kind in history – both for the Commission and for Philippine media.
… Now the Commission is accusing us of violating the Constitution, a serious charge considering how, as a company imbued with public interest, we have consistently been transparent and above-board in our practices.
… We intend to not only contest this through all legal processes available to us, but also to fight for our freedom to do journalism and for your right to be heard through an independent platform like Rappler.
Rappler’s appeal to the public is “Stand with Rappler, defend press freedom.” And that they will hold the line. I must think that by saying they “will hold the line” also means abiding fundamentally by the rule of law in this land, which goes without saying that Pres. Rodrigo Duterte is not above it either.
Now, let’s consider the points raised by Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao with the approval of the publication’s President Dante Ang, Sr. for me to quote some statements in toto from said column, for this purpose some of which are as follows:
…She (Maria Ressa) is lying through her teeth. She fully knows that it took the Securities and Exchange Commission the whole of last year to investigate the allegations that Rappler violated the constitutional provision banning foreign money in and control of media firms. I don’t think anyone can accuse the SEC chair, Teresita Herbosa, of being a Duterte lackey: She was appointed by former President Aquino in 2011.
… Ressa obviously doesn’t respect our laws nor our country, that she imputes other motives to the SEC decision, thereby portraying the Philippines as a dictatorship going after critical media.
… Rappler actually functioned as a tool of the Aquino regime. It was set up in 2011, when the Yellow Cult realized that in its ambition to completely control Filipinos’ minds, their hold of traditional media, through the two dominant TV networks and through the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Philippine Star, was not enough, especially in the new social-media world emerging.
… North Base Media and Omidyar’s investments were concealed as “Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs),” a document which assures a foreign firm that it would receive the income due its investment in a corporate share, while being technically not the share’s owners. This has been a legal trick used by public-utility companies in which foreign capital is limited by the Constitution—PLDT, Globe Telecom, ABS-CBN and GMA7—to skirt the constitutional provisions.
… By taking P50 million from two US media outfits—even from one notorious in the world for destabilizing a Ukrainian government the US didn’t like—Rappler attacked our Constitution. It undertook a scheme that would have opened the doors to foreign control of an institution crucial to developing our sense of nationhood: media.
…According to the SEC decision itself, it was Rappler president Maria Ressa (probably tapping the anti-Duterte network centered reportedly on New York billionaire Loida Nicolas Lewis) who asked for funding from North Base Media and Omidyar Network.
… The Constitution is very clear that there must be no foreign control whatsoever. Anything less than one hundred percent (100%) Filipino control, as stockholder or through any other means, is a violation.
With the order of SEC for Rappler to close shop, is not, however, the end of the line for the said online publication. Notice the most recent news report of columnist Lian Buan which maintained that after a decision by the SEC, revoking Rappler’s registration, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will now look at the company’s possible criminal liability in allegedly violating the Anti-Dummy Law, according to Solicitor General Jose Calida.
Lian Buan moreover, reported that SEC en banc said it found Rappler’s issuance of a Philippine Depositary Receipt (PDR) to foreign entity Omidyar Network a violation of the constitutional requirement that all media companies should be 100% Filipino-owned.
But Rappler argued that it is wholly Filipino-owned, saying, “PDRs do not indicate ownership. This means our foreign investors, Omidyar Network and North Base Media, do not own Rappler. They invest, but they don’t own,” Rappler said.
Solicitor General Calida, however, maintained that Rappler can exhaust legal remedies, go to the Court of Appeals within 15 days. To which SEC Spokesperson Armand Pan said equivocally that SEC decision is not final and executory.
In closing, whoever is guilty of lying through one’s teeth as pointed out by fearless columnist Rigberto Tiglao, whether one is Yellow, Black, or Red should be thrown off to the slammer fast. It’s high time for heads to roll into oblivion!