It’s not press freedom

The closure of Rappler’s website by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly violating the Constitution’s provision on restrictions on equity, ownership and management, brings to fore several questions on press freedom.

The 1987 Constitution provides, in the General Provisions, Article XVI, Section 12: “The ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly owned and managed by such citizens.”

This brings us back to the fundamental question of press freedom, which to me is not absolute. Santa Banana, yes you are free to say what you think of anybody and yes, you are free to write.

But it’s not absolute because we have laws against libel and slander. Supposing you call somebody a crook or a murderer? Each person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Going back to Rappler—was the question of ownership the reason why it was closed by the SEC?

This sends chills down the spine of mass media practitioners and owners. President Rodrigo Duterte of late has been critical of a national broadsheet and a broadcast network for allegedly being biased.

Some say all members of media should band together to protest the case of Rappler and denounce the attack on press freedom.

But is it, in fact, an issue of press freedom?

This is why the SEC and Malacañang should explain why Rappler was closed. The speculation is that it was closed because it was critical of the Duterte administration. The President himself should assure the people that press freedom remains.

I don’t think the President would just close a news organization just for being critical of him. He has more than enough defenders.

It’s not a case of press freedom, by the way. It is really an issue of violating the Constitution.

* * *

I agree with what many say that once Charter change gets under way, the Office of the Vice President may not be necessary. If we are able to change our system of government, the president would be chief executive officer and the prime minister would take care of the day-to-day business of government.

If both chambers of Congress opt to have a vice president, he or she would not just wait to succeed the president in case he dies or becomes incapacitated.

In the United States, the vice president should be in the same party ticket when election comes. Then we would no longer have the problem of the two top officials of the land belonging to different parties.

A better option would be to do away with a vice president once and for all.

* * *

I agree with Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio who says it would be stupid of the Philippines to allow China to explore Benham Rise, now known as the Philippine Rise.

But Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano did it anyway by allowing a Chinese research entity to explore Philippine Rise, whose plateau under the sea has become rich in natural resources.

The question is why.

Carpio, the leading figure in the Philippines’ fight to nullify China’s aggressive claim to all of South China Sea, said the Duterte administration should instead stop Beijing from conducting maritime research unless China accepts the July 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

The problem is that Mr. Duterte is friendly to China in exchange for investments and development assistance. He may be forgetting that the more we give to China, the more it wants.

Carpio also said the arbitral ruling would benefit other claimants to the SCS territory.

* * *

I am confused over the move of President Duterte to urge Congress to enact first the Bangsamoro Basic Law before amending the 1987 Constitution that would pave the way for a federal system of government.

The President claims this is the answer to the Muslim separatist movement.

I recall Mr. Duterte saying that as a lawyer, he see constitutional defects in the BBL. It would in effect create a sub-state within a republic, which is basically unconstitutional since the territory of the Philippines should be under one government.

The patently unconstitutional provisions of the proposed BBL include having the Bangsamoro sub-state its own police force composed of the MILF and Armed Forces. Santa Banana, the Constitution says that the country is supposed to have only one national police force—the Philippine National Police!

Another provision is that the territory would have its own Comelec and Commission on Audit.

So if Mr. Duterte doubts the constitutionality of the BBL, why is he pushing it?

* * *

I have been informed that there are two cases before the Department of Justice that have been pending since 2011 and 2015. These involve a former top official of Banco Filipino, closed by the Bangko Sentral many years ago.

There was also this case filed by the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation in 2016 against 33 former officials, employees and consultants of the closed bank, charged with syndicated estafa, for allegedly misappropriating bank funds for personal expenses.

I think these cases should be resolved already. It is to the interest of everyone. Why is Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II delaying their resolution?

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