Three topics vied for the attention of this column this week: The first is the antics of Congress in its desire to constitute itself into a constituent assembly in order to push federalism and other amendments into our Constitution. The second is the humongous, reportedly weeklong, 60th birthday bash of Speaker Pantaleon (“Panty” or “Bebot”) Alvarez in Davao. And the third is the government’s attempt through the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to close down Rappler.
Rappler won hands down for this week’s column although, Reader, I will give the two other issues a lick and a promise, as the saying goes. With respect to the federalism issue, have you noticed, Reader, that whether the experts (Pimentel, Davide, Puno, etc.) were for or against federalism, they were united on one point: To change the Constitution, it must be through a constitutional convention rather than a constituent assembly. Basically, Congress is not to be trusted—too many issues to protect.
With respect to the birthday bash, it may not have been a week long, but it took at least two days. And Reader, you can go to YouTube or Google: The place where the dinner was held, the fireworks display (a four-minute extravaganza), you can see these for yourself, thanks to the wonders of present-day technology. Question: Where does a person who had to be bankrolled for his election campaign get the money? Probable answer: from the unwitting Filipino people who paid hard-earned money for their taxes, or donations of persons with interests.
Now to Rappler. Its journalists are fiercely independent—a culture that is fostered by the company—and to foster understanding of issues, it presents facts as well as numerous views and analyses which may be contradictory. Lastly, it “adheres to the highest global standards of investigative journalism free of vested interests.”
And why not? Maria Ressa. Glenda Gloria. Chay Hofileña. Marites Vitug. Some of the most respected and awarded names in journalism, investigative or otherwise. Do you think, Reader, that these ladies would even consider lending their names to front for a foreign entity who will tell them what to write about, and how to write it?
Back to Rappler. It is unique. It “provides a service that has not been previously offered in the market… It is a technology company that uses the internet and other digital systems to report and disseminate news and provide a forum for social interaction, i.e., discussion and sharing of information and needs.” But it also uses its technology to help the government and its citizens during times of national disaster (MMDA, student publications, DepEd).
Now, our Constitution provides that all broadcast and print media corporations must be 100-percent Filipino-owned and -controlled.
Are the Rappler foreign investors, which are venture capital corporations, “foreign media entities,” as is assumed by the SEC? Omidyar Network is one of them, founded by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay. Do you really think, Reader, that Omidyar is interested in telling Rappler what to write and how to write it?
ABS-CBN and GMA-7 also have foreign investors. Like Rappler (who copied from them), they use so-called Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) as investment vehicle, which pose no danger to these companies of flouting the constitutional provision at least as far as the SEC is concerned. Why? Because PDRs give their holders economic benefits, but not any ownership or control.
Is Rappler being singled out by the SEC? Is it because President Duterte is tackling the weakest first? Maybe, But it also could be that the SEC does have an issue it wants to resolve: The investors in ABS-CBN and GMA-7 are passive investors, but the SEC thinks the investors in Rappler are more than passive because they have powers that the PDR holders of ABS-CBN and GMA-7 do not have. That is what Rappler has to clarify to the SEC.
And SEC Chair Tess Herbosa wants all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. Which is understandable. I understand that the disputed SEC order is not yet final and executory, so no reason to panic.
Rappler, please dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s. I believe in you.