Comelec suspends fact-checking partnership with Rappler amid OSG case

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 08 2022 07:43 PM | Updated as of Mar 08 2022 11:57 PM

Acting chairperson Socorro Inting ordered Comelec's Education and Information Department to temporarily stop the implementation of the memorandum of agreement with Rappler. ABS-CBN News/composite file
Acting chairperson Socorro Inting ordered Comelec's Education and Information Department to temporarily stop the implementation of the memorandum of agreement with Rappler. ABS-CBN News/composite file

MANILA (UPDATE) — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) suspended Tuesday its fact-checking agreement with news organization Rappler following the Supreme Court (SC) petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) seeking to nullify the deal.

In a memorandum written by acting chairperson Socorro Inting, she ordered Comelec's Education and Information Department to temporarily stop the implementation of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Rappler. 

"Given the allegations against Rappler and the subsequent filing of the petition with the Supreme Court, it is judicious for the Commission to hold in abeyance the implementation of the provisions of the MOA until issues are settled and/or decision of the court is rendered," read the memorandum.

Inting earlier said they are ready to defend the deal and "face the music" after Solicitor General Jose Calida's move.

"We cannot do anything but face the music, answer the petition, and defend the memorandum of agreement that we signed with Rappler. Whatever decision the court will render, we will abide by it," Inting said Monday. 

The Solicitor General wants the high court to issue a temporary restraining order and declare the MOA void for allegedly violating the Constitution and other laws, and also for allegedly being “onerous to the Government and the Republic,” based on a 2-page press release.

In its press release, the OSG said the Comelec essentially “co-shared” with Rappler the power to decide on all questions affecting the elections, and that Rappler’s authority to flag Comelec with “false, misleading, harmful information” constitutes prior restraint of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

However, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez denied that Rappler has access to confidential data.

"One of the key points in MOA preparation for Comelec is to ensure that there is no violation of the Data Privacy Law. We do that for all memoranda of agreement," he said. 

In a statement released late Tuesday, Rappler said the unilateral decision by Inting to suspend the partnership is "regrettable". 

"It is unfortunate that Commissioner Inting, who signed off on this agreement as acting chairman less than two weeks ago, and who declared just a day ago that the commission would await the Supreme Court's decision on the matter, has gone ahead and unilaterally given instructions to set out agreement aside," it said.

Rappler also noted that the instruction was given on the same day that the new Comelec chairperson was sworn into office, and that it was not officially informed of the memorandum beforehand.

"Instead, the information and memo were leaked to a TV station associated with disinformation and online attacks on journalists and independent media. We have not received an official copy of the memorandum as of 10 pm on Tuesday, March 8, four hours after it was leaked," it added.

"The decision is based on false and unsubstantiated claims of the Solicitor General, who is obviously acting on behalf of partisan interests that are being threatened by Rappler's independent reporting," Rappler also said.

Rappler urged the Comelec en banc to deliberate on the issue, and to base its decision on facts.

"Rappler is asking the commission en banc to deliberate on the matter in the same way it did when it approved the MOA as a collegial body. This decision should be based on fact and not unproven accusations that cannot stand in court. This partnership is not just about Rappler but about engaging free and independent media to bring about transparent and more credible elections," it said.

"We hope that the new chairman and commissioners will bring to the discussions the impartiality, wisdom and courage expected of an independent constitutional body," Rappler added.

- with reports from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News