Embarrassing headlines

By Alex P. Vidal

“When the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.”—Christopher Dodd

AS a Filipino journalist now living outside the Philippines, I am embarrassed that the “top stories” in some of the major news networks and publications around the world, as of press time, was about the order of the Philippine government to shut down Rappler, a news website based in Pasig City, Metro Manila.

The news that loudly reverberated around the world coincided on June 30, 2022 with the inauguration of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as the 17th president of the Philippines, that prides itself as supposed to be having the freest press in Asia.

CNN: “Philippines orders news site Rappler to shut down, founder Maria Ressa says”; The New York Times: “Philippines Orders Rappler to Shut Down”; BBC News: “Rappler: Philippines orders shutdown of Maria Ressa’s news site”; Yahoo News: “Philippines orders news site Rappler to shut down, says founder Maria Ressa”; Axios: “Maria Ressa: News organization Rappler ordered to shut down by Philippine government”; NBC News: “Philippine news site Rappler ordered to shut down, founder Maria Ressa says”; Al Jazeera: “Philippines: Maria Ressa’s Rappler news site ordered shut down”; The Guardian: “Nobel laureate Maria Ressa vows to fight Philippines order shutting Rappler site”; Bloomberg.com: “Philippine news site Rappler faces closure as SEC order affirmed.”

Founded by Maria Ressa, Cheche Lazaro, Nix Nolledo on January 1, 2012, Rappler is an independent, digital-only social news network that leverages community and digital engagement to drive social change, according to the company’s profile.


The act of shutting down a media entity—print, broadcast, TV, website—for whatever reason, is a negative image for a democratic country; and it’s not healthy sign for the incoming administration, especially if the conflict’s genesis emanated from the outgoing administration.

Rappler’s feud with the government started with the Duterte administration.

It should not have “prolonged” or “extended” to the Marcos administration.

The fact that Duterte and Marcos are political allies, it made the extreme act of suppressing and muzzling the press even more uglier and contemptuous.

Any aggrieved public official can always haul an “erring” journalist to court since we have the law on libel and even cyber libel, but press freedom shouldn’t be curtailed and silenced permanently using the influence and power of government.

Each time the Philippines was in the news—or every time we were asked by foreigners about press freedom in the Philippines, we needed to defend the Philippines press, which should be the moral obligation of every Filipino journalist anywhere in the world.

The news of the order to shut down Rappler is clearly a black eye to Philippine democracy.

It doesn’t augur well with the incoming administration’s call for “unity” since the harassment against Rappler appeared to have been dribbled from one hardcourt to another in a searing midnight assault against freedom of the press.


Let me share the statement from Omidyar Network, “a social change venture that works to bring about structural changes that will fundamentally shift the systems that govern our daily lives,” in relation to Rappler’s problem with the Philippines Government as represented in this case by the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission:

“The ruling by the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission to revoke the certificates of incorporation of Rappler Holdings Corporation and Rappler, Inc. is an unfortunate interpretation of Filipino law that reduces press freedom and independent news coverage in the Philippines.

“The SEC ruling holds that the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) to Omidyar Network were in violation of the Constitution of the Philippines, which states that the ownership and management of mass media entities must be limited to Filipino citizens or entities wholly owned and managed by Filipino citizens.

PDRs are structured to allow Filipino companies to access international funding while retaining sole Filipino ownership and control. PDRs do not provide the holder any ownership of shares in the underlying entities.  These financial instruments are aligned with the Constitution and have been issued by various holding companies of leading media and telecommunications companies in the Philippines, including some whose PDRs are registered with the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission and listed and traded on the Philippine Stock Exchange.  Furthermore, the SEC did not raise any challenges when the PDRs were first issued in 2015.

“In accordance with the Constitution and laws of the Philippines, Omidyar Network does not own any shares in either Rappler Holdings Corporation or Rappler Inc., nor does it have any voting rights, management responsibilities or any other form of control in either company, nor any editorial input in Rappler.

Rappler Inc., which operates an independent, social news network, is wholly owned and controlled by Filipino citizens and entities that are wholly owned and controlled by Filipino citizens.

“We understand that Rappler proposes to file motions to challenge the SEC order.”

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)