(UPDATE) Journalists from news site Rappler can continue publishing their stories despite a Securities and Exchange Commission order revoking their incorporation papers, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Tuesday.
The regulatory body said Rappler, owned by former ABS-CBN News chief Maria Ressa, "sold control to foreigners" and violated the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.
"What will be dissolved is the corporation, Rappler and Rappler Holdings, but the individuals can continue with their profession. Maria Ressa can’t be prohibited from acting as a journalist. She can’t be prohibited from publishing anything on the internet because that’s covered by the freedom of the press and freedom of expression," Roque told ANC's Headstart.
"What was dissolved was the corporate entity that owns Rappler, but individually, the journalists, because they’re Filipinos, are free to exercise their profession."
He added, Pia Rañada, Rappler's Malacañang correspondent, can still cover Palace briefings.
Roque said the SEC revoked Rappler's incorporation papers for alleged violation of the Constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law.
"The issue is the Constitution that provides for the freedom of the press, but it is also the Constitution that mass media must only be owned by Filipinos," he said.
The problem with Rappler is 100 percent of its stocks are owned by Filipinos, but they entered into what is known as Philippine Depositary Receipts, which are investments
"They gave the investor the power to...control the company because they allowed the foreign investor, the founder of eBay, sabi ng PDR nila, Rappler can't amend its article of incorporation and bylaws without the vote of 2/3 of PDR holders, which is the founder of eBay."
Roque denied that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the SEC to shut down Rappler. He said SEC Chair Teresita Herbosa and all but one of the commissioners were appointed by Duterte's predecessor.
"It’s not as if the President that ordered the SEC, that’s the point of the text of Chair Herbosa. No one told her to do anything and no one can compel Tess Herbosa to do anything against her wishes," he said.
"The assumption is wrong that it is orchestrated by the President. It’s not a crackdown on media. It’s a way of implementing the Constitution and it’s a message to everyone that everyone, including journalists, crusading journalists, must comply with the Constitution. No one is exempt from complying with the law."
Rappler is one of several news organizations that has earned Duterte's ire for critical reporting on issues hounding his administration, including the bloody war on drugs.
Late last year, Rappler launched a fund drive asking supporters to help them "stay free and independent of political pressure and commercial interests."
The campaign has collected P1.175 million in nearly 4 months.