MANILA (UPDATE) - News site Rappler and some of its reporters and managers on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to compel the government to allow them to cover President Rodrigo Duterte and his events.
In a 74-page petition filed on Thursday, the group asked the high court to strike down the ban on presidential coverage imposed on them, saying it violates their press freedom and their rights to free speech, equal protection, and due process.
The President in March last year said he is banning news outlets like Rappler because they “twist” his statements.
"Huwag kayong sumagot. You’re investigating us, fact-finding, well sorry. Do not f*** with me. Mahirap kasi ‘pag palabas ‘yan, kita mo ‘yung mga newspaper, mga Rappler. Iba itong speech ko ngayon. Bukas, iba ang presentation niyan," Duterte said.
(It's difficult when it comes out, look at these newspapers and Rappler. The speech I'm making today will be presented differently by them tomorrow.)
"Kaya bawal ngayon sila (they are banned). That is my order. Do not talk to people who will produce lies out of your statements and who can twist it forever to the angle that they would like it to,” he added.
Among the petitioners are Rappler reporters and managers Pia Ranada, Mara Cepeda, Raymon Dullana, Frank Cimatu, Mauricio Victa, Camille Elemia, Ralf Rivas, and Baltazar Lagsa.
Ranada and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa in February 2018 were prevented from entering Malacanang, its press working area, or any public event even outside Malacañang where the President is present.
Rappler said other Manila-based journalists like Elemia, Cepeda and Rivas, as well as Mindanao-based correspondent Bobby Lagsa were similarly prevented from covering the President.
Named as respondents in the petition are the Office of the President, Office of the Executive Secretary, the Presidential Communications Operations Office, Media Accreditation Regulatory Office, and the Presidential Security Group.
Duterte's spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said Malacanang will not interfere with the Supreme Court's future actions.
"It’s a free country. We do not interfere with the judiciary," Panelo said.
BASES FOR PETITION
Petitioners said the ban, although veiled as an “innocent regulation,” is actually a form of subsequent punishment in violation of free speech and press freedom.
“Plainly put, the ban was a retaliation for the content of their reporting,” the petition read, claiming that it creates a chilling effect on other journalists, preventing them from critically reporting on the President and his policies.
“The current fate being suffered by Petitioners has caused journalists to give pause when they write. ‘Will I be next?’ beg the question in their minds. The likelihood of it happening is not the point. The very fact journalists have to ask that question to begin with is the ‘chill’ the Constitution seeks to prevent,” it said.
The ban, petitioners claimed, violate the Constitutionally-guaranteed prerogative of the media for self-regulation, as embodied in Republic Act No. 4363 which created a Philippine Press Council and Presidential Decree No. 576 which authorized the creation of a print and a broadcast media group for purposes of self-regulation and internal discipline.
Petitioners alleged the ban is arbitrary because it is unwritten and only the President knows the limits or restrictions to the ban.
It is likewise not “narrowly-tailored” to meet a compelling state interest, according to the petition. Numerous Supreme Court decisions have held that restrictions to constitutional rights must be minimal or only to the extent necessary to achieve a purpose.
Petitioners also complained they were singled out and did not have the opportunity to contest the ban, in violation of their rights to equal protection and due process, respectively.
Petitioners asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order or a status quo ante order or a writ of preliminary injunction to compel respondents not to restrain Rappler journalists’ ability to cover, report, witness or access newsworthy events, including those with the presence of the President and other officers of the Executive Branch.
They also asked for a special raffle in view of the approaching Holy Week break.
Rappler is represented by constitutional law professor John Molo.
In a statement issued after the filing, Rappler said their case was not just about their organization but about other journalists and the public as well.
"This case is not just about Rappler. It is about every journalist’s mandate to cover without prior restraint or threat of punishment the Office of the President and scrutinize the tremendous power it holds. It is about the public we all serve and who are served best when the media are able to freely provide them with information, however critical it may be of government," the statement read.
The news website said the "unlawful and unjust" policy has been in place for 14 months now without any written order from the President.
"During that period, we repeatedly appealed to Malacañang for reconsideration and even went to the extent of asking him personally in January 2019, through our Malacañang reporter Pia Ranada Robles, to lift the ban. [But the] ban has not only stayed, it has extended to our coverage of campaign sorties of administration candidates where the President is a guest."
Rappler said they are hoping the High Court will strike down Duterte's order.
"We trust that the highest court of the land will see the ban for what it is: a violation by the executive branch of a fundamental right that the Constitution guarantees a free press."