Last Thursday, the Commission on Elections signed a memorandum of agreement with Rappler in what it described as part of its effort to fight disinformation and promote voter awareness during the election season.
Ironically, that’s where the problem starts. Because from where I sit, I see Rappler at the core of a group of media sowing biased information and reporting for this year’s election coverage, thereby favoring a particular candidate. Just read Rappler’s reportage of the election campaign and you can clearly see how biased it is against Partido Federal ng Pilipinas standard bearer, former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. whom they fondly refer to as the son of a dictator in its news articles. Not to mention the slant of their story.
But this is not the first time Rappler had shown its biases to favor a particular group, specifically the Yellows, now repackaged as the Pinklaw.
In its coverage of the impeachment trial of the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, it unjustly accused a businessman of lending his sports utility vehicle to the former, resulting in the outfit’s chief executive officer, Maria Ressa’s conviction for cyber libel.
Also, its ownership is being questioned, having been established it had been receiving foreign funding.
This particular aspect, Kilusang Bagong Lipunan senatorial candidate lawyer Larry Gadon, is reason enough for the Comelec not to enter into an agreement with Rappler for election-related matters.
“Rappler is a foreign-funded and capitalized entity in the guise of donation, so, therefore, it is barred from participating in our electoral process,” says Gadon, who is also a media practitioner himself being one of the anchors of the radio program Karambola.
Gadon says the Comelec is according an undue recognition to Rappler whose legal existence has violated Philippine corporate laws.
“You are legitimizing an illegitimate entity and a media outfit which is a bearer of fake news and obviously a machinery of propaganda,” he stressed.
National Press Club president, Paul Gutierrez also expressed dismay over the Comelec’s decision to enter into an agreement with Rappler.
In his letter addressed to Comelec Acting Chairperson Socorro Inting, said that while the NPC respects the Comelec’s right to partner with anyone in order to ensure that the coming political exercise is “clean, credible, honest and transparent,” the country’s leading press organization believe that the poll body’s choice of Rappler as a “valuable partner” in the dissemination of “truthful information” is a contradiction that is unacceptable to most Filipinos.
“It is an established fact that Rappler has a spotty record when it comes to the dissemination of ‘truthful information’ considering its record of gross bias in its reportage that resulted in its current legal woes. We are sure that you are familiar with them by this time,” Gutierrez stated in his letter as he reminded Comelec “that most of Rappler’s current legal woes arise first, from its being a foreign-funded media outfit, contrary to what is provided for in our Constitution.”
Gutierrez added Ressa has been convicted of criminal libel by a Manila court for biased reporting, a fact that cannot be obscured by the many ‘awards’ given to her by foreign-based media organizations.
“We can go on and on citing reasons why we object to your MOA with Rappler. But our central message is, the credibility of the coming election that we all aspire for is not enhanced by your choice,” said Gutierrez in his letter.
“We are registering our protest because just like most Filipinos and just like you, we too, would want to see and experience a clean, credible, honest and transparent election the result of which may well decide the country’s future in the coming years. But your choice of Rappler, certainly, is a step in the wrong direction,” the NPC president stressed.
Like Gutierrez, this writer believes, albeit sadly, that the decision of the Comelec to partner with Rappler is the poll body’s judgment call, although it cannot be too late to rectify this “error.”
As Gutierrez aptly puts it, the MOA between Comelec and Rappler “does not have the unanimous or majority support of the members of the Philippine press nor of the majority of self-respecting Filipinos.”
What has the Comelec spokesman now gotten into?
Just a couple of days later after the signing of the memorandum of agreement, Solicitor General Jose Calida warned the poll body of a potential court action unless it rescinds its agreement with Rappler until Friday, March 4, alleging the MOA is violative of “the Constitution and other relevant laws.”
Calida says the agreement “will unwittingly grant Rappler, a foreign-funded entity, the monopoly of truths arising from its claimed fact-checking accreditation from international entities.”
In 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler’s Certificate of Incorporation after establishing that the online news outlet has been receiving foreign funding since 2015.
According to records, Rappler had received $5-million (P260-million) funding from the Omidyar Network and the National Endowment for Democracy. In 2019, another American fund, the Media Development Investment Fund put $1 million into Rappler.
Incidentally, both Omidyar and NED are said to be funding NGOs in countries whose heads of states were anti-American, on grounds that they were authoritarian rulers.
While the SEC ruling has since been elevated to the Court of Appeals, Calida says Rappler is subject to the foreign equity restriction under the Constitution.
“Thus, the MOA contravenes this Constitutional limitation and the proscription against foreign participation in the conduct of the elections,” the solicitor general stressed.
Calida also questioned the authority given to Rappler to produce show for election-related information, to “alert” the poll body on election-related clams on social media, and to establish PHVote Microsite which will contain information related to the polls, saying Rappler is notorious for “disseminating unverified and, sometimes, false claims.”
Well, Calida might add “Employing malicious spins to its stories in furtherance of disinformation” to Rappler’s resumé.
The other day, in publishing its own version of the news item on Calida’s warning to Comelec regarding the MOA, Rappler used the heading, “Marcos and Calida in sync anew, this time vs Rappler’s Comelec deal,” insinuating, you guess what.
Anyway, what puzzles me most is respected Manila Times columnist Rigoberto “Bobi” Tiglao’s exposé in his column alleging it was Comelec spokesman James Jimenez who allegedly pushed Inting to approve the poll body’s agreement with Rappler, which Tiglao, citing sources, says, has not been approved by the Comelec en banc.
Aside from that, Tiglao’s sources allege the poll body’s legal department, sources have “recommended disapproval of the agreement on grounds which were precisely those raised later by the Office of the Solicitor General.”
In his column, Tiglao said “Jimenez portrayed the agreement as a fait accompli, telling Inting that it was just like the agreement with Rappler since 2013, and merely formalized the website’s assistance to Comelec for its information efforts,” but which was entirely untrue as “the agreement the Comelec signed with Rappler in 2016 was merely to undertake presidential debates with seven other media entities having similar agreements.
The one in 2013 was simply a formalization for Rappler to get information from Comelec which are available to any media organization.
Tiglao explains the “the agreement with Rappler for the 2022 elections is totally different, as it gives Rappler a broad authority to access even its classified data (such as un-transmitted returns) and to have its agents on the ground practically deputized as staff of Comelec’s Voter Care Center.”
I just can’t believe Jimenez would have the guts to push for a partnership with Rappler as Tiglao alleges in his column.