MALACAñANG admitted on Wednesday that President Rodrigo Duterte felt uncomfortable with Rappler reporter Pia Ranada with her style of questioning, but said Rappler could continue to cover the Palace beat and publish their stories, whether critical or not against the Duterte administration, Presidential Communications and Operations Office Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag said.
In a radio interview, Banaag said Ranada could still cover Malacañang because all the events were being telecast live by the PTV4 and she was free to attend the press briefings of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
“While Ranada is a member of the Malacañang Press Corps, she is not allowed to conduct interview with the President or ask questions if there are any event inside Malacañang,” Banaag said.
For his part, Spokesperson Harry Roque clarified Malacañang did not bar Ranada to cover the Palace but the Rappler because of the order of the Security and Exchange Commission to stop operation since it was controlled by foreigners and violated the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.
In a related development:
• The Department of Justice has backed the decision of Malacañang to bar online news outfit Rappler from covering events of President Duterte in the Palace, saying the move is not illegal.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II stressed there was no violation of press freedom under the 1987 Constitution committed by the Office of the President over the incident.
“No, that was not a violation of such right. There is such a thing as proper accreditation as you know very well in your profession,” Aguirre said in an interview.
“Media men should comply with all requirements,” he added.
According to him, freedom of the press—while constitutionally protected—has its limits.
“Freedom of the press is not absolute. People also have the right to be protected from fake news,” Aguirre explained.
• The Commander of the Presidential Security Group said Rappler reporter Ranada should have been grateful the PSG personnel who stopped her at the Malacañang gate did not hurt her after she “bullied” him with questions.
But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the PSG had “no right to harm Rappler’s people.”
“That remark is uncalled for and really off the mark. Whatever Rappler’s offense, the PSG [has] no right to harm Rappler’s people [or] threaten them,” the defense chief said.
PSG chief Brig. Gen. Lope Dagoy had said he disapproved of how Ranada on Tuesday, Feb. 20, pressed a PSG officer on duty to explain who gave the order to ban her from Malacañang grounds.
In a later text to Ranada, Dagoy said, “It was good that my soldier did not hit you when you were bullying him.”
“Ranada can’t be prohibited from acting as a journalist and continue to write stories (on) anything what she wants on the internet because that’s covered by the freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” Roque said.
“What was dissolved was the corporate entity that owns Rappler, but individually, the journalists, because they’re Filipinos, are free to exercise their profession” President Duterte’s spokesperson said.
“ I have always been an advocate for the freedom of expression, as is our Constitutional right,” the Palace official said.
He said Malacañang never intervened nor censored any media entity to publish unfavorable stories against the Duterte aministration, adding there was never any incident that Malacañang interfered in with regard to news being written by reporters covering the Palace beat.
Roque said Rappler even continued to publish on their website “fake news,” citing the case of Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go’ s alleged linked to the frigate deal.
The Presidential spokesperson strongly denied that Duterte ordered the SEC to shut down Rappler, but was merely complying with the SEC order.
“The assumption is wrong that it is orchestrated by the President. It’s not a crackdown on media. It’s a way of implementing the Constitution and it’s a message to everyone that everyone, including journalists, crusading journalists, must comply with the Constitution. No one is exempt from complying with the law,” he added.
As to the eligibility of the online news outfit to cover the Palace as a “mass media” outfit under the Constitution, Aguirre said this remained as a justiciable issue.
He cited the pending case in the Court of Appeals involving the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission last month to cancel the corporate registration of Rappler due to violation of constitutional ban on foreign ownership in mass media firms in the country.
Besides, the National Bureau of Investigation is also conducting its probe on foreign ownership in the media outfit funded by foreign firms Omidyar Networkt and North Base Media.
Aguirre stressed his order for the NBI probe and case build up over possible violation of the constitution and laws by Rappler also “was never intended to interfere nor violate press freedom.”
“We want to emphasize that your DoJ respects freedom of the press. However, to borrow the words of the National Press Club, responsible journalism means compliance with the law,” the Justice Secretary stressed.