MANILA - It was within President Rodrigo Duterte's right to speak up against Rappler's "unfair coverage," his spokesperson, Harry Roque said Saturday, amid criticism that the administration is cracking down on the press.
The chief executive hit the news website on Tuesday, a day after the revocation of its registration over supposed foreign ownership, after it published a 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.
"Ano namang masama sa magalit ang isang presidente dahil sa tingin niya na unfair coverage? Kasama po yun sa kalayaan. Meron silang kalayaan ng malayang pamamahayag, pero pag nagalit ang taongbayan sa kanila, kasama na ang presidente, kasama yun dahil sa pag-ehersisyo nila ng kanilang karapatan," Roque told radio DZMM.
"Hindi naman pupuwede na sila ay puna nang puna sa presidente tapos si presidente hindi lang puwedeng punahan. Meron ding karapatan si presidente na magsalita. Ang pinagbabawal ay gamitin mo ang estado para supilin ang karapatan ng malayang pamamahayag na hindi po ginagawa."
Duterte slammed Rappler's news item on Go, 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.
Duterte said he would fire Go, his longtime right-hand man, if it would be proven that the latter indeed intervened in the procurement of the military equipment.
The President's criticism of another Rappler report comes as the news website was embroiled in controversy with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which said the company "sold control to foreigners" and violated the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.
The Department of Justice has also ordered an investigation into Rappler and case build-up over possible violation of the Constitution.
Rappler management said Omidyar Network and North Base Media "do not own" the company, even as they hold Philippine Depositary Receipts.
Roque said Rappler can continue with its operations since it was only its "corporate structure" that was declared null by the regulator.
"Yung karapatan nila na mag-ehersisyo ng propesyon, nandidyan pa rin po yan dahil ang journalism naman, maski dayuhan ka pupwede kang mag-report dito sa Pilipinas, hindi po yan pinagbabawal," he said.
"Ang pinagbabawal po yung negosyo sa mass media na kontrolado ng mga dayuhan."