YES, that’s what the Securities and Exchange Commission — consisting of five accomplished lawyers — said they would have ordered, jail the Rappler officers, on top of directing the foreign firm dissolved — if only it was empowered to do so. Such penalties are directed by Presidential Decree 1018, which remains part of the country’s body of laws.
This is of course in complete contrast to this newspaper’s editorial July 3, 2022 which claimed in its very first sentence that Rappler should just be fined for “violating the Constitution,” and not ordered closed. Right, just fine them just as the State would speeding drivers.
Mull a bit how terribly absurd that claim is. The Constitution is the very basic law of the land, the document that defines our nation, the primordial contract Filipinos have agreed to abide by. Its importance is such that it is really the most concrete thing to which Philippine presidents swear to:
“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as President of the Philippines, preserve and defend its Constitution.”
Yet for violating the Constitution, the editorial wants Rappler to be meted fines only. Maybe such an article only reveals, because it is being violated left and right, how little Filipinos value the Constitution.
The basic rule I would think all journalists must strictly follow — or risk being libeled or even worse, write wrong or even ridiculous stuff — is this: Read first the document you are writing about. I’m afraid the editorial writer didn’t, or else he wouldn’t have written that stuff, and I wouldn’t have to waste a column on Rappler, whose cadaver is on its way to its grave. Now I have to quote at length the SEC order.
The SEC’s order*, dated June 28, 2022 and signed by all five commissioners, went into boring detail why Rappler cannot deny it had foreign investments. However, at its heart is the eloquent argument that the Constitution must be respected and complied with:
“[Rappler willfully violated the Constitution when they granted [US firm] Omidyar Network [ON] control through the ON PDRs. The issuance of the ON PDRs was made during the lifetime of Rappler and to further its operations for the purpose, among others, of securing additional funding to make its business global. Being a mass media entity, Rappler was fully aware of the nationality restriction on mass media under the Constitution, and has in fact consistently maintained that it is a Filipino company. However, in the interest of business advancement, Rappler nonetheless decided to grant control to Omidyar, which it considered a ‘relevant impact investor,’ in blatant violation of the Constitution and PD No. 1018.”
“The importance and significance of the constitutional provision requiring that mass media should be absolutely owned by Filipinos relate to the policy which the Constitution sets to implement, i.e. the protection of the best interests of the nation, that being the prevention of public opinion from being influenced by foreigners. Otherwise, the country can be easily influenced, if not manipulated, by foreign entities. The overriding public policy involved in ensuring that mass media is controlled by corporations which are 100 percent Filipino-owned relates to the important role of mass media in shaping the minds of the people and influencing public opinion. The power of mass media is such that it can ‘attract and direct public attention’, ‘persuade in matters of opinion and belief’… Thus, foreign entities acquiring control over the same will have the power and means to effectively control, shape, and influence public opinion. They will have the ability to direct public sentiment in any direction they so choose to the detriment of the Filipino people.”
If I were writing the order, I would use an example for this narrative Ukraine, how Omidyar Network — yes, the same investor in Rappler — set up similar media companies in that nation, which helped rouse its citizens to oust its president in 2014, really the key event that eventually led to Russia’s devastating invasion of that sorry nation.
That the editorial writer didn’t really see how grave Rappler’s violation of the Constitution is evidenced by its absurd argument that unlike Rappler, ABS-CBN lost only its franchise, but not its corporate life. But ABS-CBN had not committed any crime, nor did it violate the Constitution, as Rappler did. Congress simply did not extend ABS-CBN’s franchise to use the nation’s airwaves.
I find that the SEC in its order demonstrated the kind of patriotism we sorely need. It has a profound understanding of what the Constitution is, why it should be respected. It declared: “Considering the seriousness and the gravity of the infraction, and that it was no less than the Constitution that was violated, this commission finds and so holds that the penalty of revocation, which was already meted out against Rappler and RHC in the SEC decision, should be affirmed and sustained.”
The SEC’s closing argument emphasized this:
“Finally, public interest will be served if the revocation of the certificate of incorporation of Rappler and RHC is sustained because it will implement the policy of respecting and fully complying with the provisions of the Constitution, to which every Filipino owes allegiance. The same will underscore the policy that any violation of the Constitution… will not be taken lightly. Compliance with the Constitution and the laws cannot be disregarded to further business interests.”
What the editorial writer was ignorant of, on which he would have been educated about if he just bothered to read the SEC order is the fact that violation of the constitutional provision that not a single centavo of foreign investments is allowed in mass media is a crime, declared as such by Presidential Decree 1018 of 1976. (And argue till you’re hoarse that that was a martial law decree; all such decrees, if not repealed specifically by law, are part of the law of the land.)
The SEC pointed out that it does not have any other option (such as the fines that the editorial recommended) but to revoke Rappler’s license to exist as a corporation, as this is the penalty PD 1018’s section 5 imposes: “Violation of the provisions of this decree shall subject the person or corporation guilty of such violation to cancellation of its permit.”
But wait, PD 1018, the SEC pointed out, imposes harsher penalties, under the same section: “In addition, any person found guilty of violating this decree shall be punished by imprisonment of from six months to five years or a fine of P10,000 or both, such fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the Court. If the violation is committed by a corporation, the penalty shall be imposed on the officers or employees thereof who were responsible for or who committed the violation. (Emphasis mine)” Of course the P10,000 — even if roughly equivalent to about P80,000 today — is ridiculously low, and a court would likely order its CEO Maria Ressa and its board jailed, at least for six months, as the law stipulates.
The SEC pointed out: “The Court of Appeals has in fact already made a conclusive finding that Rappler violated the Constitution and pertinent laws, including PD 1018, which categorically provides that the ownership of mass media should be limited to Filipinos. Thus, the persons who committed such violation should be prosecuted accordingly before the proper forum. Rappler cannot be allowed to go scot-free by the simple expedient of a waiver and/or a donation, for what is otherwise a criminal offense.”
The editorial, as Ressa and the Yellows, have been shrieking that the SEC order to dissolve Rappler means violating the constitutional provision of freedom of the press. This is totally absurd, a lie which Ressa has been disseminating all over the world to save her skin, to cover up for her blunder as Rappler CEO.
Such an argument is easily crushed to a fine grain by considering that another right specified by the Constitution is that Filipinos have the right to choose their abode and to travel.
But government certainly suppresses that right for a convicted criminal. The Court of Appeals and now the SEC have concluded that Rappler is a criminal that violated the Constitution. PD 1018 categorically orders such a firm closed, and in addition its officers to be jailed and/or fined.
The editorial mouthed the cliché “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I subscribe to that idea: Let Ressa and her editors blah-blah nonstop in social media and, as she has been doing this past six years, in foreign forums portraying Philippine media as cowards in not opposing an authoritarian.
But implement our Constitution and PD 1018, and close Rappler down, and throw those people who have been lying to the world that our nation is a very bad place, to jail as that law orders. And I hope similar media firms bankrolled by US agitator-entities — VERA Files, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism — read the writing on the wall. Their officers are too old to be jailed.
*I posted a copy of the SEC order on my personal website rigobertotiglao.com, for the convenience of that editorial writer.
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