MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has denied involvement in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) decision to revoke the incorporation papers of news website Rappler, his spokesman said Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte called him up Monday evening to shut down suspicion that he was behind the closure order.
“Tinawagan ako for the first time para sabihing, ‘hindi totoo, 'yan wala akong kinalaman d'yan sa Rappler na 'yan ha,’” Roque told reporters.
Roque said Duterte, who has slammed Rappler for its critical reporting, “found it unfair” for Rappler CEO Maria Ressa to assert that the SEC decision was a form of harassment and, thus, an attack on press freedom.
“The President found it unfair for Maria Ressa to claim violation of freedom of the press when, according to him, Rappler has been very active criticizing individuals for violating the Constitution and the laws of the land, and it turns out it is violating the Constitution,” he said in a news conference.
“He did not like the fact that Rappler was saying that this is a result of the President’s dislike for Rappler. Of course not. He has nothing to do with this decision. He was not even aware that this decision was coming up.”
Roque also shot down suspicion that the SEC, led by Chairperson Teresita Herbosa, was influenced by the administration into handing down a decision that could hurt Rappler’s operations, even as the regulatory body scrutinized Rappler’s ownership due to an “initial formal request” from Solicitor General Jose Calida, a vocal ally of the President.
He pointed out that Duterte only had one appointee among all SEC commissioners, adding that Herbosa’s integrity is something that he can vouch for.
“Lawyers will find [it] difficult to accept that chairperson Herbosa is a person who can be influenced in making a decision that is contrary to law,” Roque said.
“The President had nothing to do with it. [It was done] by individuals who were not his appointees. He could not control the majority of the commissioners and the chairperson of the SEC.”
The regulatory body has said Rappler, led by Ressa, "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 know of any intention to curtail press freedom.
Herbosa, in a statement, said she would defend the body’s decision “to the hilt.”