MANILA — Several press organizations and opposition figures in the Philippines have condemned the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) latest decision upholding its earlier order to shut down Rappler for allegedly violating restrictions on foreign ownership in mass media, calling it an effort to silence journalists.
"It is clear now, if it had not been clear before, that the journalism community and the communities that we report about and for must stand together against government moves to harass, restrict and silence any of us to keep the press free for all of us," the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in a statement Wednesday.
The NUJP said that the order to shut Rappler, the National Telecommunications Commission's (NTC) moves to block alternative news sites Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly, and regulating block time broadcasting arrangements create "more uncertainty to the media landscape in the Philippines."
"Throughout the six years of the Duterte administration, we have seen lawsuits and regulatory processes used as tools to muzzle the press and these, as much as the touted infrastructure projects, form part of the Duterte legacy," the journalists' group said.
When Rappler was first ordered shut in 2018, Malacañang denied allegations that the Duterte administration had a hand in it.
Rappler said the latest closure order — which it called "highly irregular" and came two days before President Rodrigo Duterte steps down from power — is still not final as it will seek relief all the way up to the Supreme Court if needed.
It said it is business as usual for them because they are "entitled to appeal" the decision.
BULATLAT, ALTERMIDYA, CEGP CONDEMN SEC RAPPLER ORDER
Bulatlat, one of the sites blocked by the government upon the request of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, condemned the SEC order, saying it was a form of censorship "just like the National Telecommunications Commission's order for the internet service providers to restrict access to" their website.
"We call on our fellow journalists to resist the attacks, and unite in defending and upholding press freedom and the public's right to know," it said in a statement.
Bulatlat said that the recent incidents "create a chilling effect and are part of the deliberate efforts to discredit and stifle the press."
"It is alarming how laws are weaponized to muzzle independent media. Administrative orders and other regulatory powers of government, such as franchise in the case of ABS-CBN, should not be used to trample upon press freedom and free expression," it said.
A House committee in July 2020 denied ABS-CBN a fresh legislative franchise, which advocates said was a blow to the freedom of the press in the Philippines.
Alternative news site Altermidya echoed the statement of Bulatlat, saying that the SEC order is "both familiar and atrocious."
"These attacks by the state do not only deliver critical blows to press freedom but also directly attack the people’s right to know by controlling the information that reaches the public – all with the aim to perpetuate itself in power," Altermidya said.
"These are clear and brazen forms of censorship, which we anticipate will continue in the coming months under the incoming administration," it added.
Meanwhile, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), the oldest alliance of tertiary student publications in the Asia-Pacific region, said that the order was a "brazen attack against Rappler and the constitutional right to freedom of the press and expression."
"Just as the brutal Martial Law commemorates its 50th year this September, they are shamelessly doing the assassination of the press as early as now," the CEGP said.
'TIGHTENING OF DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN'
For former lawmaker Neri Colmenares, the decision of the SEC "is a tightening of the disinformation campaign of the Duterte and the incoming Marcos regimes," adding that "a robust democracy allows journalists to do their job fearlessly to give people a space for engagement."
"Persisting on the shutdown of Rappler, ABS-CBN, and alternative media sites will only further destroy our pillars for checks and balances," Colmenares said.
Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte won the top two posts in the 2022 elections, and are set to officially lead the country noon of Thursday.
Marcos Jr. was accused of employing disinformation campaigns to help him ascend to the presidency, which he denies.
Rappler is one of the official Facebook third-party fact-checkers in the Philippines.
New opposition leader Sen. Risa Hontiveros, in a statement, said that it was "deplorable that this administration continues to find new ways of threatening legitimate news organizations not to exercise press freedom."
Hontiveros said that the country needs "critical, honest, and facts-based journalism," adding that she will always fight for freedom of the press.
"Silencing important media voices like Rappler, and ABS-CBN before it, not only affects the flow of information for the day. These assaults on independent press and other perceived 'threats' also chip away at our democracy," she said.