Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo on Thursday said Malacañang won’t interfere with the judiciary as online news website Rappler filed a petition, asking the Supreme Court to compel the government to allow it to cover President Rodrigo Duterte and his events.
“It’s a free country. We do not interfere with the judiciary,” Panelo said in a text message to Palace reporters.
Rappler on Thursday filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court to strike down the ban on presidential coverage imposed on it, arguing that it violated its press freedom and rights to free speech, equal protection, and due process.
The petitioners in the case are Rappler reporters and managers Pia Ranada, Mara Cepeda, Raymon Dullana, Frank Cimatu, Mauricio Victa, Camille Elemia, Ralf Rivas, and Baltazar Lagsa while the Office of the President, Office of the Executive Secretary, the Presidential Communications Operations Office, Media Accreditation Regulatory Office, and the Presidential Security Group are named as respondents.
Rappler was barred from covering Malacañang since February 2018 due to its ownership issue at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The SEC earlier said Rappler violated the Constitution’s restriction on foreign ownership of local media but Rappler denied this claim and said it is Filipino-owned.
President Duterte earlier said he was “invoking executive action” when he issued a directive to ban Ranada from covering Malacañang events.
Duterte said Rappler’s reporters would be allowed to cover again his events if the SEC would declare Rappler a 100-percent Filipino-owned online news outfit.
Rappler has taken a tough stance on Duterte’s signature narcotics crackdown that has killed thousands of alleged drug dealers and users, but also cast a critical eye on his leadership and controversial public statements.
“You are not only throwing toilet paper. You are throwing shit at us,” Duterte said in a 10-minute rant at a January 2018 news conference shortly before Rappler’s reporter was banned from the presidential palace.
Two months later, in a speech that singled out Rappler, Duterte instructed administration officials not to “talk to people who will produce lies out of your statements.”
In seeking the Supreme Court’s intervention to lift the coverage ban, Rappler Inc. and eight of its reporters said the Duterte administration had violated their constitutionally-guaranteed rights.
“The ban (is)... repugnant to the constitutional guarantee of free speech and a free press. Moreover, it creates a chilling effect on other news organizations and journalists,” a copy of the petition read.
A court spokesmen did not immediately comment on the case.
“It’s a free country. We do not interfere with the judiciary,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters Thursday when asked to comment.
Maria Ressa, Rappler’s chief executive and executive editor, was arrested twice this year over a series of criminal charges she says are government attacks. She is currently out on bail.
She pleaded not guilty last week to tax evasion charges stemming from a 2015 bond sale that raised money from a US-based investor for the news site she co-founded.
The Philippines’ corporate regulator revoked Rappler’s business licence last year over the investment, but the site continued operating as it appealed the case in the courts.
After her second arrest the United States urged the Philippines to quickly resolve the case against Ressa, who holds Filipino and US passports, and allow her and Rappler to “operate freely.”
The Duterte administration maintains the Rappler cases have nothing to do with press freedom.