SIX years after it started investigating charges against Rappler for violating the constitutional provision banning foreign ownership in media, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last June 28 finally ruled Rappler incontestably guilty of the charges and ordered it closed. The decision was unanimous among the five SEC commissioners, who were either career people or had impeccable qualifications as attorneys and CPAS.
We are indeed moving toward building a Strong Republic, with a regulatory body demonstrating independence from powerful private entities, ignoring the shrieks of a grossly uninformed Western media alleging the press is being suppressed by a dictator in the country.
It declared Rappler as well as the holding company its investors used to evade the Constitution, to be non-existent as a corporation, and therefore without any authority to operate as an entity. Its CEO and founder, Maria Ressa, an American more than a Filipino citizen, of course pooh-poohed the SEC decision, saying it is business as usual for Rappler.
I wonder how she would look when the building owner tells her and her staff to immediately vacate the premises, as it cannot lease its office space to a non-entity. I urge its staff to demand their salaries be paid in cash asap, rather than through ATMs, as a bank cannot have an account owned by a non-entity. Well, actually, these poor guys now have a ghost for an employer, with salaries unpaid, unless Ressa uses her P570,000 share of her Nobel Peace Prize.
The case against Rappler was actually an open-and-shut case. It was the internet media firm itself which announced the foreign investments, with its headline for the day, “Omidyar Network Invests in Rappler.” Omidyar Network is the fund created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Another company, North Base Media, had earlier invested in the website, with the two firms putting in about P100 million.
Desperate for funds, Ressa solicited the foreign investments since Rappler, which started in 2012 (its first task being to vilify then Chief Justice Renato Corona), was heavily losing money because of the high salaries of its CEO and top editors and the expensive services it contracted from tech companies abroad to quickly expand its viewership. Its original funder, property magnate Benjamin Bitanga, also refused to put in more capital.
Yet Rappler’s defense, as the SEC order quoted a Court of Appeals decision in 2018, was its “assertion that Rappler is not engaged in the business of mass media.” The CA affirmed the obvious in 2019: “This court maintains its ruling that Rappler is a media entity.” Yet its CEO Maria Ressa’s statements to the world are that the cases against her and the online media firm, were President Duterte’s attempts to suppress press freedom in the country. The seven major charges (other than the libel charge), all involving the foreign investments, she spun as “a thousand cuts” intended to gradually kill Rappler.
Because it is so obviously guilty of the charge — the result of Ressa’s incompetence as a CEO that she didn’t even check the legality of foreign investments in her media firm — sources in the legal profession disclosed that Rappler (or the foreign funders behind it) has so far spent P50 million in fees to two of the country’s top law firms to defend it, although the attorneys’ only strategy was to delay it, asking so many times for delays in the court and SEC proceedings.
I’m not sure if Ressa’s lawyers should be congratulated or laughed at. First they claimed the investments were not really investments but mere “depositary receipts.” When the SEC and the Court of Appeals pointed out that Rappler didn’t have the necessary authority to issue such highly regulated financial instruments, the lawyers recommended: tell the SEC they were “donations” to Ressa and her staff. Bullshit and you know it, the Court and the SEC said in so many words.
These delaying tactics have backfired. With the ruling issued just two days before Duterte was to step down, who would believe Ressa’s claim that he directed the five-man SEC members (who have seven-year tenures that can be ended only with a corruption charge) to decide against Rappler? Who would believe that incoming President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. ordered it so?
Ressa took advantage of several factors that made US media so gullible to believe her lies. First, US media always detests an anti-American head of state, and they easily believed the Yellows’ allegations that Duterte is a ruthless authoritarian who is killing “tens of thousands” (Ressa claimed 27,000, a figure totally debunked now) of Filipinos in his war against illegal drugs.
Second, to the US media, Ressa is an American, talks like an American and was even a CNN correspondent, who therefore should be believed without an iota of doubt. She is America’s gift to Philippine journalism.
Third, given this narrative, it was easy for Ressa to claim that the charges against her were Duterte’s way of suppressing her and Rappler. Never mind that one was filed by the solicitor general, another by a private citizen whom Duterte has not known, and a third by a BIR bureaucrat.
And fourth, the Philippines is really so unimportant to US media that its editors don’t bother to check the dispatches of their correspondents, many of whom are greenhorn journalists susceptible to state-oppressing-hapless-journalists narratives. Many US editors even think we are some small country in Latin America.
I am sure that sooner or later, some enterprising American Pulitzer-hungry journalist would write an investigative piece that would expose Ressa as a fraud. When that happens, they’ll forget Ressa is mostly American. The headline of that kind of article will be, “Filipina fraud fools Nobel committee for prize.”
Ressa’s saga, when exposed, will put her in the league of Anna Sorokin and Elizabeth Holmes. Sorokin was a young German con artist who fooled New York high society and media from 2013-2017 that she was a wealthy German heiress. Holmes duped for 12 years Wall Street and US media that her technology revolutionized blood testing that she managed to get her start-up firm $700 million in venture capital funds, which just vanished.
Am I angry at Ressa? Certainly I am. With Leni Robredo and Loida Nicolas-Lewis, she has portrayed us these past six years as cowards fearful of Duterte, unmindful of the “27,000” Filipinos he has killed — and personally profiting from her lies immensely.
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