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Monday, April 16, 2018
On Rappler’s woes, blame this columnist, not Duterte
BY RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO ON MARCH 2, 2018
I AM so sick and tired of Rappler and its editor Maria Ressa, so disgusted that they have been badmouthing to the world President Duterte and our Republic as well, for allegedly attacking press freedom, purportedly through the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to close them down for violating the Constitution that bans foreign money in media.
Don’t blame Duterte. Blame this writer—for doing his job as a journalist and being an ardent nationalist.
I wrote on October 28, 2016, that Rappler was violating the Constitution by taking in about $2 million (P100 million) in foreign funds, a column titled: “Media firm Rappler scorns Constitution by getting foreign money.” Why did I write that piece? Because I got to be aware of it because Rappler boasted about it in its article in 2015. I even asked Rappler’s main owner, a college chum — property tycoon Benjamin Bitanga –why his media firm took in foreign money. He was apparently misled by Ressa. He was told, he said, that the foreign money was for Rappler’s Indonesian operations, so it wasn’t being used on Philippine territory, and therefore complied with the Constitution.
Rappler’s 2015 article: They boasted about it, which got them into trouble.
• Solicitor General Jose Calida obviously read my column and wrote the Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Teresita Herbosa on December 14, 2016 and requested if, as my article alleged, Rappler violated the constitutional ban on an foreign money in a media firm.
• After a year of investigation, during which Rappler was given the opportunity to debunk the allegations, the SEC ruled on January 11 this year that the outfit indeed was in violation of the Constitution. Puppets of Duterte, Ressa shrieked. But Herbosa was appointed by President Aquino in April 2011. The SEC’s commissioners have a seven-year term of office, and can be removed only by a court’s order if a criminal case is filed against them.
You decide, dear Reader, if it is a case of suppression of press freedom, as Rappler and the Yellows as well as the Reds are shrieking about.
We journalists incessantly complain that government does not do anything in response to our exposés. Yet when government does something about it, those affected cry out that they are being persecuted by government?
Would we prefer that the Solicitor General remained unconcerned when he read about this violation of the Constitution, or for the SEC to ignore his request to investigate it?
One other reason why I have become—just recently—so totally disgusted with these Rappler hypocrites is that I have learned the real reason why they were so willing to violate the Constitution by taking in foreign funds in 2015.
By 2015, Rappler was fast going bankrupt, mainly because of the huge costs it was racking up by using overpriced software to increase its Internet audience. It had already spent about P200 million yet was still earning little revenue after three years of operation.
Rappler’s main Filipino owner, Bitanga, disclosed to me in a text message the other day that he had stopped funding the outfit by then.
Ressa and her colleagues would have been unemployed if they couldn’t get any more funds into the firm. No businessman would dare fund or go near Rappler, because of Ressa’s reputation.
The only recourse for Rappler was to seek big money, from foreign outfits like Omidyar Network and North Base Media, whichmake such a huge pretenseof helping democratic institutions thrive in Third World countries, that there are allegations that they are linked to US intelligence agencies.
One reason I pursued the online-only media outfit for taking in foreign money in violation of the Constitution is that I was very much aware, having been editorinchief of the Inq7.net (the former news website that was a joint venture of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and GMA7) that the New Media—made possible by digital technology and the Internet—was so vulnerable to foreign control.
Rappler got to expand its readership swiftly not because of journalistic excellence, but because of its use of Internet technology which is expensive and available mostly only to US firms. One example of this was Rappler’s use of “cookies” that are automatically stored in the computer of anybody who views any of its pages, which enables it to report that its viewers have strong “engagements” with the site. It has been using expensive technology for its articles to adopt to Google’s search algorithms—which are so often changed—so that its articles are listed high in the firm’s search results.
If foreigners are allowed to dominate the New Media – which more and more of our youth are reading – because of their monopoly of technology and their access to huge amounts of capital, our sense of nationhood will be eroded fast. After the schools, media is the prime molder of a nation’s culture, and our youths’ minds will be molded by foreigners.
I have never written about myself in my columns, but I have to do so this time in order to disabuse the minds of some – because they don’t know my background — who may suspect my motives “for going after” the news site.
I have been a working journalist most of my life. My credentials as a journalist have been validated by the fact that I am the only Philippine journalist to have won the four most prestigious mass media awards: the Catholic Mass Media Award (1983), Fellow of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University (1988), Asian Journalist of the Year, (1991) and Ten Outstanding Young Men Awards for Print Media (1992).
But more than a journalist, I am a nationalist, an adherent of the belief that the nation is the principal organization we have to be loyal to, and that we must protect it from attempts by other nations to dominate it. I joined the Communist Party in my teenage years mainly because I had been convinced it was the only organization fighting for nationalism in the 1970s. I spent two years in Marcos’ prisons for that.
I was a reporter for Business Day from 1981 to the end of Marcos’ strongman rule, and we risked life and limb by exploiting the narrow democratic space that opened up as a result of the lifting of martial law at the time.
I was even threatened by certain Marcos technocrats when I exposed that they were manipulating our Central Bank’s international reserves to make it appear that it could pay for our foreign debts. (It couldn’t so we fell into default in October 1983, with then Research Director Say Tetangco claiming that my articles panicked foreign banks.)
Press freedom is a right I uphold, and I had put my life on the line for that. I just hate it that Ressa and her colleagues are exploiting the issue of press freedom as an excuse for their violation of the Constitution, which they did just to maintain their jobs and to bloat their egos.