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Roque-founded advocacy group slams SEC decision on Rappler

CenterLaw, the advocacy group co-founded by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr., on Tuesday slammed the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) for revoking news website Rappler's certificates of incorporation.

In a statement, the group called Solicitor General Jose Calida's request for SEC to probe Rappler's ownership structure a "collateral attack," saying what Calida did was restrain "a known critic of the government’s drug war, not by directly censoring it but by cancelling its corporate registration."

It said the SEC's move was "tantamount to prior restraint" and one that "comes with the heavy presumption of unconstitutionality."

The decision also overlooks provisions in the constitution that places the media's "free expression at the topmost rungs of constitutional freedoms," even those involving property rights.

CenterLaw, or Center for International Law, also said the SEC should have given Rappler a chance to correct its deficiencies as it had with other media entities.

"If the annals of constitutional adjudication were to give an able guide, since press freedom is a preferred constitutional value in the Philippines, what the SEC should have done was to give Rappler an opportunity to correct its ownership structure. Instead, the SEC got down to business right away with guns blazing," it said.

"And there’s the thing: for Rappler claims the SEC denied them what it had in fact allowed other similarly placed entities to do. This smacks of a lack of due process, not to mention unequal treatment, which are also unconstitutional acts."

CenterLaw further stated that the Supreme Court's prior rulings enjoined the government to consider all the circumstances of a property rights case "before penalizing the free exercise of speech and expression."

"Thus, at best, the SEC’s decision is a prime example of outrageous legalism blind to law's greater purposes; at worst, it is one cloaked with unconstitutional motivations," CenterLaw said.

The SEC ruled that Omidyar Network's investment in Rappler caused it to have certain control over other holders of Philippine Depositary Receipts or entities that invested into the media organization.

Omidyar supposedly also caused the insertion of provisions that handed it a certain measure of control over the corporate policies of Rappler Inc. and Rappler Holdings.

Due to this, Rappler allegedly violated the Foreign Equity Restriction of the Philippine Constitution, which states that "(t)he ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly-owned and managed by such citizens," according to SEC.

Roque left CenterLaw in 2016 after he was elected to Congress as a party-list representative. President Rodrigo Duterte appointed him spokesperson last year, replacing Ernesto Abella. —Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News