Filtered By: Topstories

NBI to probe Rappler over possible violation of Constitution, laws

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Wednesday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the possible criminal liabilities of online news site Rappler, whose incorporation papers have been revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Aguirre issued Department Order 17 tasking the NBI to conduct the probe and file cases, if evidence warrants, for "possible violation of the Constitution and laws."

The Justice chief also asked NBI Director Dante Gierran to submit updates on its probe.

"Fishing expedition"

Rappler, meanwhile, slammed Aguirre's order to the NBI, calling it a "fishing expedition" and "pure and simple harassment."

"We thought this was supposed to be in relation to PDRs (Philippine Depositary Receipts) and the alleged violation of the Constitution," Rappler said in a statement. "It's all the more clear and blatant what government's agenda is: they're deadset to get Rappler and kill press freedom."

A PDR is a financial instrument that allows foreigners to invest in a Filipino company, without owning any part of it.

SEC vs. Rappler

It was Solicitor General Jose Calida who called on the SEC in December 2016 to investigate Rappler, citing newspaper articles of former ambassador to Cyprus and Greece Rigoberto Tiglao, who disclosed in 2016 that two American companies, Omidyar Network, Inc. and North Base Media, “made substantial investments” in Rappler in 2015.

After more than a year, the SEC ruled on January 11 that Rappler violated the constitutional provision against foreign ownership in mass media when it welcomed Omidyar Network of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar as an investor in the online mass media outlet.

The corporate regulator said Rappler also issued derivatives to North Base Media in 2015, but the derivatives did not carry the same terms as that of Omidyar's.

"Because Omidyar was the later purchaser... it caused the insertion of certain provisions that assure control over other PDR Holders, and also over the corporate policies of Rappler Inc. and its alter ego Rappler Holdings Corporation," the SEC decision stated.

Rappler questioned the timing of the decision, a copy of which the SEC furnished to the Department of Justice. Rappler said the decision was a "harassment" and that it would contest the decision before the courts.

Calida defended the decision on Tuesday, saying no one is above the law.

"If you engage in the business of mass media you have to comply with the constitutional and statutory regulations because no one is above the law, even a powerful media. This is about the rule of law,” Calida told reporters when asked to react on journalist groups’ concerns that the decision was an attack on press freedom.

Aguirre, in a separate interview on Wednesday, said the Constitution was clear that ownership and management of mass media is limited to Filipino citizens.

“You should not circumvent what is stated in the Constitution. In other words, you should not do, even indirectly, what is prohibited in the Constitution,” he said. —KBK, GMA News