Comelec downplays suspension of Rappler fact-checking deal

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 09 2022 08:59 PM

Nobel Prize laureate and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa speaks during a press conference at the Palacio del Gobernador in Manila on February 24, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Nobel Prize laureate and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa speaks during a press conference at the Palacio del Gobernador in Manila on February 24, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday downplayed its suspension of a fact-checking partnership with news agency Rappler amid criticisms the poll body supposedly conceded to the demand of the Office of the Solicitor General for the scrapping of the deal.

In a press briefing, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez maintained that the memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Rappler is not their only initiative against election misinformation, and its suspension would not affect other similar efforts.

"There's a misconception that Comelec is entirely dependent on Rappler for initiatives against misinformation. That’s not true. We are working with social media platforms,” said Jimenez.

"As far as fact-checking is concerned… we have other people doing that for Comelec. These things will continue unabated. They’re not covered by the TRO (temporary restraining order)," the spokesman added.

There is no TRO from the Supreme Court (SC) yet though.

On Tuesday, then-Comelec acting chairperson Socorro Inting issued a memorandum suspending the MOA with Rappler, saying "it is judicious for the Commission" pending the resolution of the petition filed by the OSG at the SC.

According to Jimenez, the Comelec is not setting aside the deal and its suspension was not "in contradiction" with its earlier position. 

"Nothing has changed. The Comelec is still going to defend its position on the Rappler memorandum of agreement except that, with the case having been filed before the Supreme Court, there is of course the element of deference to the Supreme Court... There is no contradiction," Jimenez noted.

The OSG 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.

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.

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