SC acts on Rappler petition vs presidential coverage ban

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 14 2019 03:15 PM

MANILA – After almost 4 months, the Supreme Court has acted on a petition filed by Rappler and some of its journalists questioning the President’s directive preventing them from covering his events.

In a resolution dated July 30 but released to the media only on Wednesday, the SC en banc directed respondent government agencies to comment within 10 days to Rappler’s petition, which also sought to temporarily stop the presidential coverage ban.

In the same resolution, the high court allowed a group of journalists and other media advocates to intervene in the case. 

Named as respondents in the petition were the Office of the President, Office of the Executive Secretary, the Presidential Communications Operations Office, the Media Accreditation Regulatory Office and the Presidential Security Group.

In February 2018, Rappler’s Malacañang reporter Pia Ranada was prevented from entering the Palace, its press working area, or any public event where the President is present.

That ban extended to Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa and other Rappler journalists based in Manila and other parts of the country.

In their petition filed in April this year, Ranada and her fellow-Rappler journalists argued the ban constitutes prior restraint and subsequent punishment, a violation of their right to freedom of speech and expression. They claimed they are being punished “in retaliation” for the content of their reporting which creates a chilling effect on other journalists.

Rappler is known for its critical reporting on the President and the administration.

The President himself, on March 1, 2018, accused some newspapers and Rappler of “twisting” his statements. He ordered his officials not to talk to “people who will produce lies out of your statements.”

Later in April this year, more than 40 journalists and journalism professors led by Florangel Braid, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution and now President Emeritus of the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication, filed their petition-in-intervention assailing the ban for being arbitrary and a content-based form of prior restraint.

They cited 3 different reasons by then Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque and the President’s words which, to them, clearly showed it was the President’s displeasure with Rappler and Ranada’s reporting that led to the ban.

Braid was joined by Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility executive director Melinda Quintos de Jesus, media advocates Inday Espina Varona and Vergel Santos, and esteemed journalists Tina Monzon-Palma, Marites Vitug and Twink Macaraig. Journalism professors Luis Teodoro and Danilo Arao are also among the petitioners.

They are represented by former high court spokesperson Theodore Te, on behalf of the Free Legal Assistance Group.

The other intervenors are media advocacy group Media Nation led by actor-activist Bart Guingona and a group called Pagbabago @ Pilipinas Foundation Inc., which filed their petitions-in-intervention on April 22 and May 24, respectively.

Te welcomed the high court’s ruling.

“The interventions allow a broader invocation of freedom of expression and of the press, outside of the rights claimed by Pia and Rappler,” he said in a message.

Te and FLAG also represent Rappler in the cyberlibel case filed against them by businessman Wilfredo Keng.

Rappler's journalists, in a statement, said the court's decision shows that the coverage ban does not affect only Rappler but also other media outlets.

"We hope our case can be put to the test of oral arguments so we can finally get answers from Malacañang and see how sincere it is in respecting freedom of the press," they said.

Rappler and its executives are facing several other legal cases, and its articles of registration were revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission in January 2018.