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Press freedom alive and well under Duterte

Philippine online journalist Maria Ressa was recently given this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. She got the prize on the premise that she defended press freedom in the Philippines last year. That premise assumes that press freedom is in peril or does not exist in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Understandably, when Malacañang greeted Ressa for getting the prize, the government asserted that press freedom is honored, guaranteed and in force throughout the Philippines.

Malacañang said it succinctly. Press freedom is alive and well in the Philippines. President Duterte may have his share of detractors in the media, but the government has never abridged press freedom, and does not intend to do so.

The historical record says it all.

Since President Duterte assumed office in 2016, he never ordered the closure of any newspaper, magazine, publishing house, radio or television station, or social media site.

Critics of President Duterte accuse him of shuttering the ABS-CBN radio and television empire in violation of press freedom. That is a brazen lie.

Under existing Philippine laws enacted several decades before President Duterte even assumed office, all broadcast media operating in the Philippines must obtain a legislative franchise as a prerequisite to any broadcast activity.

The legislative franchise of ABS-CBN lapsed into law in April 2020. Congress did not renew it. Accordingly, ABS-CBN cannot use the conventional airwaves.

Anti-government agitators conveniently fail to mention that before President Duterte was elected, ABS-CBN had already sought a renewal of its franchise from Congress, which was then controlled by the Liberal Party of then President Benigno Aquino III, a known ally of ABS-CBN. That early, Congress refused to renew the network’s franchise.

Under the Constitution, Congress has the absolute discretion to renew or not to renew a legislative franchise. Congress refused to renew the ABS-CBN franchise when Aquino III was president. It refused to renew it under the Duterte administration. Being so, why should the non-renewal be blamed on President Duterte?

In other words, ABS-CBN went off the air because its legislative franchise expired, and not because President Duterte shuttered it.

Despite the non-renewal of its franchise, ABS-CBN has managed to remain accessible today through its cable television facility and its online platforms. The Duterte government has never prohibited any of that.

Two local daily newspapers in the country (not the Daily Tribune) have been very critical of President Duterte ever since he assumed office. Those newspapers have never been closed down, and they remain operating today.

Ressa’s online news outlet Rappler has always been a staunch critic of President Duterte, but Rappler was never shuttered by the Duterte government. Rappler remains in business today, despite its financial ties to a big American business conglomerate, which shares Washington, DC’s dislike for Duterte because of his refusal to allow the United States to treat the Philippines as a vassal state.

Rappler is facing a case in court for allowing foreigners to invest in it, which is a violation of the constitutional ban against alien ownership and management of mass media in the Philippines.

Under the Constitution (drafted by an unelected commission created in 1986 by President Corazon Aquino), all media in the Philippines, pro-administration or otherwise, are off-limits to foreign investors.

Likewise, Rappler is facing a tax evasion case, not because it is critical of the government, but because it did not pay taxes. All businesses in the Philippines, whether their management likes the government or not, must pay taxes.

Ressa was convicted for libel by a Manila trial court, but then anyone and everyone who works in the media always faces the possibility of being sued for libel. The Supreme Court has long recognized the validity of the nearly century-old law penalizing libel, and has ruled that press freedom does not cover libelous publications. Ressa is not even detained; she’s currently free on bail.

Undoubtedly, press freedom remains alive and well under President Duterte.

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Credit belongs to : www.tribune.net.ph

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