THE first time I heard about it last month, I couldn’t believe it, and thought it was merely a trial balloon by the Rappler website. But it wasn’t, and I still can’t believe the Commission on Elections could do such an atrocious thing.
Either the commissioners were plainly stupid and derelict that they didn’t do due diligence on the matter or the poll body had been infiltrated by Rappler or its Yellow (Pink) operators.
Last week, on February 24, the Comelec officially gave authority to Rappler to undertake such functions during elections as “monitoring and rectification efforts on critical efforts on the ground” and to acquire from the Comelec such sensitive data during and after elections such as candidates’ expenses and untransmitted votes. The Rappler website would even carry the precinct finder for voters. Neither Rappler nor the Comelec has made the memorandum public although Maria Ressa, in her usual melodramatic manner, boasted about it in her website, bragging at the signing ceremony: “Whatever happens here will help determine the fate of other democracies around the world.”
Any election lawyer would immediately see that Comelec is giving the Rappler a huge amount of confidential data and authority to intervene on the ground, and a means of portraying the elections — if it wishes to — as a failure.
There are two things so scandalous about this Rappler-Comelec agreement.
First, unlike other citizens’ arms in past elections — which become active only during elections — Rappler is clearly, incontrovertibly a political organization, pro-Robredo, anti-Duterte and anti-Marcos. How can you have a partisan organization be involved in the mechanisms of the elections?
In the agreement with the Comelec, it is not just Rappler’s staff at its website which will get involved in the elections. It will include “MovePH Rappler’s civic engagement arm, which will work with the Voter Care Center to assist in the response to common complaints, like missing precincts, improper campaigning by candidates, long queues outside precincts, incidents of vote-buying, voter intimidation, cheating attempts, election-related violence, among others.”
The memorandum didn’t even define who would constitute “MovePH” and how they would be identified. Rappler may well staff “MovePH” with all Robredo campaigners, and they will be on the ground on election day. If Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte-Carpio appear to be winning, they could fabricate allegations of failure of elections. Or they could undertake other subtle ways of getting voters to vote for Robredo.
Neither in the Comelec’s press release on the memorandum nor in all of Rappler’s reports on it is the role of this “MovePH” mentioned. The Comelec press release also made it appear that this was the second time it was partnering with Rappler; the first time was in 2013. However, in those elections, Rappler merely helped in the information needs of the Comelec and had no involvement at all on election day, nor was it given confidential information. In its press release, the Comelec portrayed the agreement as one in which Rappler will “commit its resources” to help it.
Nothing was said of the voluminous amount of information the Comelec would give to Rappler, and of the participation of its “MovePH” operatives right in the election precincts.
This is it, I think. That is, that last-resort move by the Pinks to prevent Marcos assuming power. The US State Department and US media’s huge effort to portray Maria Ressa as the champion of freedom of the press in the Philippines, to the extent they worked on getting her the Nobel Prize nobody believed she deserved, is intended for this project. Imagine US newspaper headlines the day after voting: “Nobel Laureate declares failure of Philippine elections, based on reports by Rappler’s countrywide monitors.”
I wonder why other media outfits aren’t protesting Rappler’s accreditation. With the authority it got, it would have more data on what’s happening and faster than other outfits would.
The second very scandalous thing about Rappler’s accreditation is this: Comelec appears to have not investigated Rappler’s background, especially the fact that it has been financed mainly by US funds, since the original big stockholder Benjamin Bitanga five years ago stopped investing in it.
Starting in 2015, Rappler had relied for its cash requirements on the $5-million (P260-million) funding from the Omidyar Network and the National Endowment for Democracy, both of which have been known to have funded NGOs in countries whose heads of states were anti-American, on grounds that they were authoritarian rulers, and that they were merely agitating for democratic reform. In 2019, another American fund, the Media Development Investment Fund put $1 million into Rappler.
Rappler, by taking that new funding, defied the Securities and Exchange Commission, which had ruled in 2020 that it should be dissolved as it violated the constitutional provision banning any foreign money in media institutions. Rappler appealed the case to the Regional Trial Court, where it is still pending.
The NED is the more controversial, if not notorious funder. Its first president Carl Gershman had candidly told the Washington Post that it had “been doing what was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” which was to covertly create organizations that undertake propaganda against a head of state the US wanted out.
The NED gets its funding directly as an appropriation authorized by the US Congress, coursed through the US Agency for International Development (USAid).
Thus Rappler, whose head is more American than Filipino, gets its funds from the US Congress. It won’t be beyond American operatives’ — and Ressa’s — ethics to regularly ask for reports from Rappler on its work with Comelec, especially on election day. The Comelec will allow foreign intervention in our elections.
Shame on Comelec and Ressa.
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Book orders: www.rigobertotiglao.com/shop