WE should be outraged at the lies Maria Ressa, the president of the news website Rappler, has been spreading all over the world in order to cover up her and her media outfit’s violations of the law. Such is the extent to which she has gone in her culture of impunity, that she is above our nation’s laws.
In her speech* before gullible (and mostly anti-Trump) Americans in New York on November 21, for accepting an award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ressa portrayed the country as one where press freedom has been suppressed by the Duterte administration, and that only she and Rappler are “carrying the torch of freedom.”
While she may have lived and worked abroad for most of her childhood and her working life, I still hope that she can find an ember of patriotism in her soul to stop her perverted portrayal of the country as being under a ruthless dictatorship.
It is not Duterte she is really bashing, but us Filipinos, including journalists, who she in effect is saying are cowards who have stopped fighting for democracy. As Columbia University journalism professor Sheila Coronel who worked for Ressa’s award puts this canard in her paean to her: “The Philippine press has been cowed by threats. Not Rappler, not Maria.” Why doesn’t Coronel just come home from New York, write the most scathing articles against Duterte, and find out if government would threaten her?
Does Coronel really believe that the Manila Bulletin, Philippine Star, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Bulgar, and of course, The Manila Times, are so afraid of Duterte that they have been cowed? Does she think the likes of Carmen Pedrosa, Ramon Tulfo, Dick Pascual, Alex Magno, Jarius Bondoc, Jay Sonza — veteran journalists with track records in fearless journalism a hundred times hers and Ressa’s — are so afraid of Duterte?
It was astonishing how Ressa could tell the most blatant lies in her speech, which were swallowed hook, line and sinker by American journalists too lazy to check the facts, or who think that the Philippines is too unimportant to investigate Ressa’s lies.
To bolster her claim that the Duterte administration is “perverting the rule of law” by filing baseless charges against her, she claimed that the “tax evasion” cases against her falsely reclassified “Rappler as a dealer of securities.” (Note: the cases were not for tax evasion but outright tax fraud.)
“But I’m obviously not a stockbroker,” she said with a sarcastic smile. “I’m a journalist.”
Ressa lies through her teeth. There was no claim at all that she was a stockbroker. The Bureau of Internal Revenue and the justice department discovered that in their tax-fraud scheme, Ressa and other stockholders created in 2015 a holding company Rappler Holdings (that they themselves owned). This shell company bought up all the shares of the news site for P19 million.
A big chunk of these shares was then sold in the form of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) to two American companies, Northbase Media and Omidyar Network, for P182 million. Rappler Holdings therefore received a windfall revenue of at least P150 million, for which it didn’t pay income taxes nor value-added taxes.
Ressa undertook this stupid and illegal corporate maneuver in order to stop the Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation that year that could only have led to its conclusion that by getting foreign funds, Rappler violated the Constitution that bans foreigners from owning media in any form and, therefore, must be closed down.
Yellow Cult stalwarts, Cory Aquino Cabinet members Solita Monsod and Fulgencio Factoran, are the most prominent members of its board now.
The original stockholder, property tycoon Benjamin Bitanga, has given up on Rappler, I was told, because Ressa wasn’t even consulting him for the firm’s major moves which got it — and even nearly his son James Bitanga who was technically the treasurer when the alleged tax fraud was committed — in trouble. Monsod and Factoran’s coming onto the board has raised rumors that a Yellow oligarch or two, or the Liberal Party itself, are now bankrolling Rappler, especially as the Inquirer appears to have toned down a notch its former anti-Duterte stance. I would believe that rumor: Not once has Rappler criticized former President Aquino 3rd nor his sidekick Mar Roxas nor the Yellow Cult.
Ressa detests Facebook since through it ordinary netizens have exposed her fakery and Rappler’s biased kind of journalism, that she once haughtily tweeted: “Time to take back the Internet.” So, in her New York speech, Ressa said that Rappler’s enemies were Duterte and Facebook.
She claimed: “Lies in social media formed the basis of legal cases against us, planted in social media years before they erupted and the cases filed.”
Ressa is lying through her teeth. I wrote the first article, on Oct. 28, 2016, claiming that Rappler violated the Constitution by getting foreign money – after the news site itself had boasted that it was “proud” to get such financial backing from abroad. I wrote in another article the following year that Rappler’s use of PDRs was a pathetic and illegal move to skirt the Constitution.
It wasn’t the Duterte government that asked me to “plant” these claims on social media. I have had a passion in exposing foreign control and involvement in industries restricted by the Constitution, as in telecoms and power, a big chunk of which the Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim controls.
The BIR — which for decades has had an office monitoring newspapers (even their obituaries) for possible tax evaders — could very easily have spotted that Rappler was not just be violating the ban on foreign ownership in media, but was committing not just tax evasion but tax fraud, which is a criminal offense.
Ressa in her speech boasted: “We fight impunity on two fronts, the Philippine government and Facebook.” It is Ressa, though, who is afflicted with a culture of impunity.
She is deep into a culture of impunity from facts and truth.
I had exposed as totally false Rappler’s claims in early 2017 that since Duterte assumed power up to January that year, Duterte’s war against illegal drugs resulted in 7,080 killed. I showed incontestable facts that Rappler distorted the police’s own numbers, and that the casualty figure at the time — partly because of drug pushers’ alleged fights with the police — was only 4,000 and that even the anti-Duterte Inquirer tallied only about 1,500.
Rappler’s false figures
But Rappler doesn’t care about facts. It ignored my arguments and figures that it even updated for 79 times its erroneous report. Rappler’s false 7,000 figure was then extrapolated and repeated again and again by anti-Duterte entities here and abroad that they now claim government’s war on drugs has resulted in 20,000 killed. The fallacious article is still posted on their website, without any clarifications or corrections. Such is impunity from facts.
Ressa is deep into a culture of impunity from the Constitution and our laws. She recklessly took in foreign money into her media firm, prohibited by the Constitution. She ignored our tax laws.
But when she is called to answer for such violations, she in effect says that the Constitution and our laws do not apply to her. She claims government is simply harassing her because Rappler has been critical of Duterte.
At least the more professional journalists at the Inquirer, whose owners lost the lucrative Mile Long commercial area they had held through several administrations, are not making that insanely lame excuse.
Ressa obviously sees herself as a God’s gift to Philippine journalism. Can somebody point out to me a good journalistic article critical of Duterte, or exposing that he is a ruthless autocrat, that Rappler has published or Ressa has written, other than their usual biased, petty anti-Duterte spins on news events? Believe me, Rappler’s former Malacañang reporter Pia Ranada, whom Ressa cited as a victim of government harassment, was a journalistic mouse Duterte even delighted in playing with.
There must be a special place in hell for Ressa: to cover up for her disastrous corporate moves involving Rappler, or to toe the line of her Yellow masters, she is painting the country as a ruthless dictatorship, and that Filipinos have been cowed by fear.
That certainly contributes to raising the country-risk assessments of our country, which gullible investors would believe, and consequently refuse to invest here – which, of course, one way or another affects the welfare of the poorest. But Coronel of course, and Ressa after her Rappler stint, will likely won’t be here of course.
*You can check yourself Ressa’s sick melodrama with Coronel complete with misty eyes and emotional crackling voices here: twitter.com/pressfreedom/status/1066010095652229121.
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao