MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte had no idea the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was going to revoke Rappler's incorporation documents, Malacañang said on Tuesday, January 16.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque made the claim in a news briefing on Tuesday after lawmakers, journalists, concerned groups, and netizens condemned the SEC decision as an assault on press freedom.
"He had nothing to do with this decision. He was not even aware that this decision was coming up," Roque said.
Duterte could not have dictated the SEC decision as a majority of the agency's commissioners were appointees of the the previous administration, Roque said. Only Commissioner Emilio Aquino is a Duterte appointee.
"It's [a decision made] by individuals who were not his appointees. He could not control the majority of the commissioners," said Roque.
He said it would be "unfair" to call SEC chairperson Teresita Herbosa a "lackey" of the President.
Based on the SEC decision itself, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the regulator to investigate Rappler.
Duterte himself had also consistently publicy attacked Rappler and its reporters.
It was during his second State of Nation Address in July 2017 when he first voiced his suspicions about Rappler's ownership.
"ABS, o Rappler, kayo ba ‘yan? Have you tried to pierce your identity? And I would lead you to America. Do you know that? And yet the Constitution requires you to be 100% media, Filipino. Rappler tried to pierce the identity, and you will end up American ownership," he said then.
In his SONA last year, Duterte spoke of how, as mayor, he had the power to "look into" the corporate earnings of companies and to "pierce" into their "corporate identity."
Call from the President
Roque also told reporters at the news briefing that Duterte himself called him on Monday night after Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and Acting Managing Editor Chay Hofileña held a press conference.
Duterte was supposedly angered by how Ressa described the SEC ruling as a curtailment of media freedom.
"I can say that the President found it unfair for Maria Ressa to claim violation of freedom of the press when, according to him, Rappler has been actively criticizing individuals for violating the Constitution and the laws of the lands and it turns out it is itself violating the Constitution," said Roque.
"He just did not like the fact that Rappler was saying this is a result of the President's dislike for Rappler," Roque added.
The spokesman said it was the first time he got a call from Duterte himself, as he is usually contacted first by Special Assistant to the President Bong Go. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.