MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday hit news website Rappler anew just as it reeled from the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) revocation of its registration over supposed foreign ownership.
Duterte was particularly irked by Rappler’s report citing documents that Special Assistant to the President Bong Go intervened in a multibillion-peso project to acquire two new frigates for the Philippine Navy.
The President slammed the news item, calling the site a peddler of fake news.
“Your articles are rife with innuendos and pregnant with falsity. We don’t intervene with the affairs of the Armed Forces,” Duterte said in a chance interview with reporters, who included Rappler’s Palace reporter Pia Ranada.
“You can stop your suspicious mind from roaming somewhere else. But since you are a fake news outlet and I am not surprised your articles are also fake, we can debate. Now tell me where are our lies and tell me where are yours,” he added.
Documents cited by Rappler showed that Go supposedly gave Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in January 2017 a white paper endorsing Hanhwa Thales, a South Korean company, to provide the combat management system (CMS) of two brand new Navy frigates to be built by Hyundai Heavy Industries.
The white paper supposedly criticized the Philippine Navy’s choice of CMS provider, Dutch firm Thales Tacticos, as it praised the capabilities of Hanwha Thales.
Citing insubordination, Lorenzana fired former Philippine Navy chief Ronald Joseph Mercado, who preferred the Thales Tacticos CMS.
Duterte was incredulous over the Rappler report, asserting it was not in Go's nature to do such things.
“Itong mga ganito, it seems to appear na ‘intervening’ because of what, money? The things you are telling never happened,” said Duterte, who is fiercely against corrupt practices in government.
“Do you think you can convince Lorenzana and the guys there? Or sila papayag na kami ang mag-bribe?” he added.
Go himself has issued a denial of the report.
“I have not intervened in the procurement of DND (Department of National Defense) of its computer system for its ships. I have not participated nor intervened, directly or indirectly, in the transactions of DND,” Go said in a statement.
“Further, I even have no information [or] knowledge of the said transaction. Clarification on the issues should be addressed to SND Lorenzana.”
Duterte said he would even fire Go, his longtime right-hand man, if it would be proven that the latter indeed intervened in the procurement of the military equipment.
Duterte’s criticism of another Rappler report comes as the news website reeled from the SEC’s revocation of its incorporation papers.
The regulatory body has said Rappler "sold control to foreigners" and violated the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.
The website management said Omidyar Network and North Base Media "do not own" the company, even as they hold Philippine Depositary Receipts.
Depositary receipts held by Omidyar stated that its holder “must have prior approval” on changes in Rappler’s articles of incorporation or by-laws, said SEC spokesperson Armand Pan.
Pan insisted that the SEC merely fulfilled its mandate as a corporate securities regulator and did not have any intent to curtail press freedom.
Duterte said by letting foreigners fund Rappler’s operations, “you are [now] a Filipino who has allowed to abuse our country,” referring to Ranada.
“You are funded by foreign money, are you not ashamed of that? You had the gall to attack the people using foreign money. You are an active participant of that in the name of the holy grail of press freedom,” he added.
Rappler maintains that while it has received foreign funding, the news website is 100 percent Filipino-owned.
Meanwhile, Duterte also stressed that he does not detest critical reporting.
“Sanay na ako d'yan,” he said.
He, however, said media outfits should not be onion-skinned if the government criticizes them for their reporting.
“Why should you complain if I’m critical against the media? Are you not critical of me?” the President said.