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PCIJ, Vera Files and CMFR violating Constitution ban on foreign funds in media

THE misnamed Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Rappler and two other media outfits which have been stridently critical of President Duterte are violating the constitutional ban on foreign presence in media by receiving substantial funds from US entities.

These media outfits are Vera Files and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR).

Vera Files was also designated by Facebook as one of its “fact checkers.” I dare it to fact-check the claims in this column.

These outfits are in the same legal quagmire as Rappler, which the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2018 had ruled was in violation of that constitutional ban owing to its $1.5 million funding from an American enterprise.

The SEC pointed out: “The constitutional and statutory prohibition…means to isolate the Filipino masses from all foreign influence (even apparently ‘harmless’ ones) sent via “any medium of communication.” It ruled—which the Court of Appeals later affirmed—that the Constitution stipulates a “zero foreign control standard,” which means that a media entity cannot accept a single peso or dollar of foreign money.

I don’t think these outfits could have survived for a month without foreign funding. They do not have an income stream to sustain them. In contrast to wealthy US tycoons funding similar media institutions, rich Filipinos or companies aren’t interested at all in media that they would financially support such outfits.

What do these media outfits have in common?

Asia Foundation

The PCIJ had received substantial funds from the Asia Foundation in its early years after it was founded in 1989. Its executive director hasn’t responded at all to my request for information on how much it has received from foreign funds after those years. However, National Endowment for Democracy (NED) documents show that it gave the PCIJ $106,000 from 2015 to 2017.

Vera Files, which describes itself in its website as an “independent media organization registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission” also received $70,000 from NED for those years, as well as another $50,000 from Reporters without Borders, which is also a recipient of NED money.

The CMFR has been the biggest recipient of foreign funding among the three, getting $278,000. While it claims to be a “center” that undertakes programs “to uphold press freedom, promote responsible journalism, and encourage journalistic excellence,” it has a website that is undoubtedly a news website. Its Philippine Journalism Review regularly posts articles critical of Duterte that had been published in Rappler and PCIJ, as well as those hiding under the byline “CMFR.” The Philippine Journalism Review has never posted a positive article on the Duterte presidency.

I emailed last week the heads of Vera Files and CMFR—Ellen Tordesillas and Melinda Quintos-de Jesus, respectively—to ask them for the sake of the ideal of transparency that they have demanded of government, to disclose how much they have received in foreign funds since their establishment, and from which entities. They haven’t even bothered to reply. And they complain that government officials aren’t giving them information they have been asking.

The NED’s reason for funding these outfits is indicated in a statement in its website’s section that narrates its operations: “In the Philippines, the Duterte administration represents a sharp break from the Aquino administration and its emphasis on good governance.”

Security issue
The NED’s funding of the three media outfits is even a national security issue. There have been allegations that it is a conduit for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operations in molding public opinion in countries whose heads of state they want to topple.

Among the many respected investigative journalists who have exposed the NED as a CIA conduit is Robert Perry, who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. He was awarded the George Polk Award for National Reporting in 1984 and the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence by Harvard’s Nieman Foundation in 2015.

PCIJ’s Severino (encircled) with his comrades at the wedding of Aquino’s favorite blogger.

In a 2014 article in consortiumnews.com, the first investigative news magazine in the Internet, Perry wrote:

“NED is a US government-funded organization created in 1983 to do what the Central Intelligence Agency previously had done in financing organizations inside target countries to advance US policy interests and, if needed, help in ‘regime change.’

It was founded at the initiative of Cold War hardliners in the Reagan administration, including then-CIA Director William J. Casey. Essentially, NED took over what had been the domain of the CIA, i.e. funneling money to support foreign political movements that would take the US side against the Soviet Union.”

Convinced that it was a CIA front, Russia banned NED in 2015, claiming that it “poses a threat to the constitutional order of the Russian Federation and the defensive capability and security of the government.”

An editorial in the Washington Times in 2017 even urged President Trump to stop Congress’ funding of NED: “Killing the NED would have another big benefit to America and the world. It would end the meddlesome activities of the endowment’s longtime leader, Carl Gershman, who as president of the organization since its founding, has acted as a kind of grand-scale global busybody, dispensing some $100 million a year in behalf of efforts to undermine governments around the world.”

* * *

The PCIJ hasn’t responded at all to my column last Friday which pointed out—based on a simple perusal of their articles since 1998—that it is essentially a propaganda vehicle of the Yellow Cult. In contrast to its scores of articles vociferously critical of the administrations of presidents Estrada, Gloria Arroyo and Rodrigo Duterte, it did not have a single posting on the allegations of corruption during President Aquino 3rd’s term.

It had nothing on the graft allegations under that administration which outraged the country, such as those involving the MRT-III and Dengvaxia defective vaccine. It had nothing on Noynoy Aquino’s monumental incompetence that led to such disasters as the massacre of 44 Special Action troops and the loss of Scarborough Shoal to China. That reminds me of a book critical of the Supreme Court, especially against the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, by a Rappler editor and a PCIJ co-founder. It bashed every Supreme Court justice except one – Antonio Caprio.

A photo that was sent to me recently has convinced me more than ever that the PCIJ is a Yellow media outfit. It showed its chairman Howie Severino — also a GMA-7 journalist — in a group photo smiling ear to ear with known personalities and propagandists of the Yellow Cult, among them Jim Paredes, Inday Varona, Tonyo Cruz, Florin Hilbay and Mae Paner. The photo was taken at the strident Yellow blogger Jover Laurio’s wedding, which was practically an exclusive party for Duterte bashers.


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