Rappler must now shutdown

Maria Ressa also loses appeal over cyber libel conviction

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The lies and deception of a foreign-funded propaganda machinery masquerading as an “independent” member of the Philippine media has been ended after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Philippines’ regulatory body in charge of policing and supervising the operations of the country’s corporate businesses, has affirmed its ruling issued in 2018 cancelling the corporate registration of ‘Rappler Inc. and ‘Rappler Holdings Corporation.’

In an order dated June 28, 2022, all 5 commissioners of the SEC headed by Chairman Emilio B. Aquino, signed the order that also directed the Commission’s ‘Company Registration and Monitoring Department’ (CRMD) to “effect” the revocation of their certificates of incorporation “in the records and systems of the Commission.”

The SEC order, tantamount to closing down Rappler and its now formal designation as a “hao-shiao” or “fake” media entity, follows the June 21, 2022 resolution of the Court of Appeals (CA), affirming the 2 earlier resolutions it issued in 2019 upholding the SEC’s findings that, among others, found Rappler of accepting foreign money to finance its operations, which is in violation of the Philippine Constitution.

The original petition questioning Rappler and its acceptance of foreign money identified with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was filed before the SEC by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) under Solicitor General Jose Calida.

The SEC then formed a Special Panel to thoroughly investigate the issue and arrived at the conclusion that Rappler, by allowing Omidyar Network to put money in Rappler, had indeed violated the foreign restriction rule under Section 11(1), Article XVI of the Constitution.

Omidyar Network is among the many private organizations in the United States identified with the US government and the CIA and its ‘regime change’ policy against governments it deemed “unfriendly” or “inimical” against the interest of the United States.

Omidyar’s financing of Rappler-like “media” networks in Ukraine helped topple its government in 2014 and the riots that erupted in Hongkong between 2019 and 2020.

Trying to weave its way out of its self-created dilemma, Rappler and its chief executive officer, Maria Ressa, had tried to argue that it is “not” a media entity and that despite its monetary contribution, Omidyar has “no control” over Rappler’s operations and management decisions.

The first page of the June 28, 2022 order by the SEC for the closure of Rappler, a foreign-funded online news site.

But according to the CA’s July 26, 2018 decision (that it affirmed in a resolution issued on February 21, 2019):

“… contrary to the Petitioner’s assertion that Rappler is not engaged in the business of mass media, this Court maintains its ruling that Rappler is a mass media entity.

“Mere grant of control regardless of the actual exercise of such control, already constitutes a violation of the foreign equity restriction on mass media.”

The SEC could have much earlier ordered the shutting down of Rappler after the Supreme Court also sided with the decision of the CA in a resolution dated September 25, 2019 and the CA declaring that its decision on the matter in support of the SEC’s position has “reached finality” as of March 21, 2019 and an entry of judgement already made by the CA.

However, the SEC had to make another round of “evaluation” after the CA took note of Rappler’s claim that from being direct foreign financing, Omidyar had turned its investment to a “donation” to its staff.

No other legal remedy

Showing remarkable aplomb after being informed of the SEC decision, Ressa, according to a report by The Manila Times on June 30, 2022, claimed the SEC order is not immediately executory and they intend to elevate their appeal to the Supreme Court.

“Although it’s up to the highest court of the land, this is business as usual and it is business as usual as we hold power into account.

“We will tell the truth. Since in our view, this isn’t immediately executory without the court (Supreme Court) approval, where rule of law is being bid to be broken,” the article quoted Ressa as saying.

But according to maverick lawyer Larry Gadon, the courts cannot compel a regulatory body like the SEC to compel it to return the registration of Rappler.

“If for example, the LTO (Land Registration Office) later on found out that a driver’s license has been issued to a person underserving to be issued a driver’s license, can he then run to the court to compel the LTO to issue him a license? It cannot be,” Gadon told Pinoy Exposé.

Gadon said the only “remedy” for Rappler is to “fix” its incorporation papers and to stop receiving money from foreign sources.

Aside from Omidyar, Rappler, according to the website of the US State Department, had also received money from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a known conduit of the CIA, along with other pseudo media organizations in the Philippines like the Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Mindanews and Vera Files.

Gadon said he would be also watching “closely” if the SEC would be able to actually shut down the operations of Rappler. He has been adamant in calling on the authorities to close down Rappler (see also Pinoy Exposé, March 14, 2022).

When it rains, it pours

Aside from the SEC ruling, Ressa has another worry coming her way after the CA also shot down into ribbons her appeal after being convicted for cyber libel by the Manila Regional Trial Court on June 15, 2020, over a complaint filed by a private businessman, Wilfredo Keng (see also Pinoy Exposé, June 16, 2022).

In a ruling released on July 8, 2022, the The CA Fourth Division, composed of Associate Justices Roberto Quiroz, Ramon Bato and Germano Francsico Legaspi, signed the decision affirming Ressa’s conviction, along with Rappler writer/reporter, Reynaldo Santos Jr.

Worse for Ressa, the CA even increased their penalty.

Manila RTC Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa originally sentenced Ressa and Santos to serve six months and a day to six years in jail, but the CA lengthened their possible jail term to six months and a day up to six years, eight months and 20 days.

However, the Manila RTC’s fines amounting to P400,000 for moral and exemplary damages were maintained.

As in the case of the SEC decision, Ressa said they would also appeal her second conviction before the Supreme Court.

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