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Unfair to accuse SEC as ‘Duterte lackeys’ for closing down Rappler – Randy David

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UP Professor Randy David thinks press freedom advocates should not be too quick in dismissing the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a rubber stamp pad for carrying out President Rodrigo Duterte’s wish to strike back at web-only news site Rappler.

“Unless it can be shown that the SEC commissioners rushed their judgment on this case, ignored due process, and demonstrated manifest bias against Rappler throughout the proceedings, I think it is counterproductive and unfair to accuse them of being Duterte lackeys,” said David in his column in the Inquirer.

“Having known some of them in their private capacities, I can say that, in terms of values and political inclinations, they have probably more in common with the journalists at Rappler than with Mr. Duterte’s solicitor general or justice secretary,” he added.

Last week, the SEC ordered the closure of Rappler after it was found to have “acted with deceit in a scheme to justify the grant of control and also financial returns, to foreign investors when they sold the Omidyar Network Philippine Depositary Receipts.”

The SEC order was approved by Chairperson Teresita Herbosa and concurred by Commissioners Antonieta Ibe Ephyro Luis Amatong, and Emilio Aquino. Commissioner Blas James Viterbo, a chief of staff of former senator Mar Roxas, did not sign the ruling. Except for Aquino, all SEC commissioners were appointed during the Aquino administration.

While it was no secret that Duterte wanted Rappler probed for having American investors, David said Rappler should explain the “side agreement” it entered into with its Philippine Depository Rights investors, specifically, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. The side deal required Rappler to get two-thirds vote of the PDR holders for any changes in the charter and bylaws of the web-based news organization.

“Some think that the commissioners should have assigned a greater weight to protecting press freedom than to exacting strict compliance with the nationality provisions on ownership and control of media corporations. But that’s probably more a function of the Supreme Court, to which Rappler may appeal, than of the quasijudicial SEC,” said David who noted that Omidyar was willing to drop the side agreement which led to Rappler’s violation of the 100 percent Filipino ownership requirement for media.

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