THE exposé by US broadcast network CNBC August 19 that Rappler head Maria Ressa had hired a “lobbying juggernaut to take on Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte” has revealed the depths of this woman’s betrayal of her mother country.
I have never heard of major US public relations, lobbying or law firms having been contracted by a Philippine entity, except in the months before and after EDSA 1, when the Yellows and then the Cory-government itself hired Sawyer Miller and seven other lobby and PR firms to undertake a massive campaign to demonize Marcos and his regime. Even the Noynoy Aquino government, because of the cost, couldn’t afford to hire a lobby firm to get the US government’s support during the Scarborough stand-off with China in 2012 and for its arbitration case filed the next year.
Except for Ressa’s case, I have never heard before of a US law, PR or lobby firm being contracted by a Filipino to defend him or her in media, in the courts, or the US Congress in criminal cases committed in the Philippines, to be tried in a Philippine court, and under Philippine laws.
We should be outraged over Ressa’s perfidy. She is spitting on our Constitution and nation by contracting a US firm to do so, one of whose tasks would be to paint our country as a dictatorship suppressing the press, and that there is no rule of law here.
What lobbying in the US Congress will this entail? To convince the US government and Congress to undertake actions to influence our courts, and if that doesn’t succeed, to overthrow the Duterte government?
The lobby firm is Covington & Burling LLP, considered not just among the top 5 lobbyists in Washington, D.C. but among the US’ biggest and most expensive law firms. It boasts of offices in 13 major cities of the world, 1055 lawyer, and what it calls its “Mini State Department of 120 former US government officials.
Since its fees — at the very least $50,000 a month — are certainly beyond Ressa’s wealth and income to afford, the report bolsters suspicions that behind her is a cabal of Yellow oligarchs working with a faction of the US Deep State to bring down Duterte. (Ressa already reportedly has one of the country’s top and most expensive law firms, Accra, defending her in the cases against her.)
Ressa claimed in an interview with a local paper that Covington will be lobbying for her and Rappler for free. Neither the firm’s website, nor its press release issued August 22 after the CNBC broke the story August 19, reports that its services for Ressa are pro-bono.
The firm’s registration reported its “specific lobbying issue areas” as “Seek to build awareness and concern about the unfounded charges brought against Rappler and its CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa in the Philippines.”
But these charges — tax evasion, violation of the constitutional ban on foreign money in media, and libel — are all pending in Philippine courts of law. What right do these American lawyers have to judge that these charges are “unfounded”?
The CNBC report quoted one of Covington’s lawyers as saying: “We anticipate that in addition to providing US legal counsel, our role will include briefing US policymakers who are concerned with freedom of expression and the rule of law so that they understand all of the facts surrounding the Philippine government’s treatment of Ms Ressa and Rappler,”
Ressa or her financiers will be paying a top-notch lobbying firm — whose bill could total in a year to about P30 million — to tell lies to US policymakers? What do they intend to achieve? Convince the Trump administration and the US Congress to stop all economic or military aid to the Philippines to pressure Duterte into asking the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a private businessman which Rappler libeled to withdraw their cases against the news site and Ressa?
CNBC gives us some hope that US media may be starting to realize that Ressa has been taking them for a ride with her claim that she is a poor victim of Duterte’s wrath. If not for its sharp-eyed reporter going over the hundreds of lobbying registrations filed at the US Senate, we wouldn’t have known about it, with at most only an obscure law website (such as law.com) reporting on it.
The truth is that Ressa was such a lousy CEO of Rappler that she didn’t consult with her lawyers first before accepting foreign funds, which was a violation of the Constitution’s total ban on foreign money in media.
She didn’t consult with her lawyers when in her attempt to skirt that ban, she packaged the foreign money into a form of securities, which however generated a huge tax liability (the difference between the shares’ face value and that of the securities that represented it) which Rappler didn’t report.
And she was such a lousy editor that an article by a greenhorn reporter clearly libeled a businessman by claiming he was a “drug lord.” An arrogant editor, as she refused to take down the post in her website, even after a law against cyber-crime was passed.
What is so disappointing though is that the US media and all of the country’s broadsheets chose to ignore the CNBC scoop. Rappler of course didn’t even have an article to explain why its editor contracted, and managed to afford an expensive lobbying firm.
Ressa’s hiring of a lobbying firm is another indication that the campaign to blacken Duterte’s image internationally, as a prelude to taking him down, has intensified. Last month, Global Witness, an NGO funded by the two tycoons that also funded Rappler — George Soros and Pierre Omidyar — came out with a report that very falsely claimed that the Philippines was the “deadliest country in 2018 for environmentalists.” (I showed conclusively why it was totally false in my recent column ‘PH, deadliest country’ report: A colossal fabrication.)
Last week, Ressa’s biggest fan, Sheila Coronel wrote an article in The Atlantic that claimed, using a “statistical probability model” that the casualties in Duterte’s anti-drug war were three times reported by the police. If her numbers were even remotely accurate, police morgues and funeral parlors in the three cities she reported on would have been overflowing that it would have made front-page news many, many times.