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The closure of the highly regarded Rappler news website establishes a clear pattern of harassment and repression under President Duterte’s increasingly repressive regime.

Although the closure order was made by the Securities and Exchange Commission through the revocation of the website’s certificates of incorporation and registration, it was obvious that the SEC acted under pressure from the administration.

The SEC order came after repeated allegations by the President that Rappler is a purveyor of fake news and that the news organization was foreign-owned and is, therefore, in violation of the Constitution that mandates media companies to be wholly owned by Filipinos.

Obviously stung by Rappler’s critical articles and its continued defiance of Duterte’s bloggers and trolls, Duterte in his State of the Nation Address in July 2017 accused Rappler of being owned by Americans and claimed that it was being funded by the Central Intelligence Agency, a wild accusation that critics and the opposition are used to hearing from the President.

Remember that he has also accused the Liberal Party of plotting to oust him with the help of the CIA and some prominent Filipino-Americans.

It was during the same SONA that Duterte also made allegations against the Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN, which he claimed were putting out fake news and were biased against him.

He accused the owners of the Inquirer of non-payment of taxes and holding on to government land beyond the terms of the contract.

The Inquirer owners eventually gave in to pressure and sold the company to a tycoon known to be close to the President.

They also gave up the lease on the questioned land.

In fairness, the Inquirer editorial staff has continued to defy Duterte in its commitment to truth.

Duterte, on the other hand, accused ABS-CBN of pocketing his money during the 2016 elections without airing his campaign advertisement, a preposterous claim for which he never presented any evidence.

He said Congress is certain to remember these when it decides whether or not to renew the network’s franchise, which expires in 2020.

With Rappler continuing to publish critical stories on Duterte and his administration, the government started moves to silence the news website.

Solicitor General Jose Calida requested SEC to determine whether Rappler complied with constitutional and statutory requirements, citing various claims made by Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao, a former spokesman of Duterte ally former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, regarding the Philippine depositary receipts (PDRs) granted to a foreign investor, Omifyar Network of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

The haste with which the SEC acted on the request seem to belie SEC Chair Tessie Herbosa’s claim that it acted without influence from Malacañang.

Instead of penalizing Rappler with a fine and giving the news site time to correct technical defects, as it had done with the case of PLDT and other major companies, the SEC immediately cancelled Rappler’s certificates of incorporation and registration, which basically shut down the news organization, despite manifestations by Rappler CEO Maria Ressa that they have waived the questioned clause in the PDR.

Not to be outdone, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III, the same official who was responsible for the imprisonment of Duterte critic Sen. Leila de Lima on obviously trumped-up drug charges, immediately ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate possible criminal liability of Ressa and two other Rappler officers.

The NBI wasted no time and summoned the Rappler execs the next day.

At the rate this administration is going after its fiercest critics, it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of these days Ressa and company would join de Lima in detention.

Ressa vows to “hold the line” while it makes its appeal to the Supreme Court, which in the past has upheld many times the primacy of freedom of the press.

The Center for International Law (CenterLaw), which was founded ironically by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque who now defends this administration’s numerous affronts on democracy, human rights and press freedom, slammed the SEC order as tantamount to “prior restraint” or a government-imposed censorship.

“The same constitution that prescribes restrictions on ownership of Philippine mass media is also the very constitution that has placed free expression at the topmost rungs of constitutional freedoms,” CenterLaw said in a statement.

“That this move to cancel its corporate registration is linked to the President’s public statements disparaging Rappler is proven by the fact that it was no less than the Office of the Solicitor General that so moved,” it said.

The government action on Rappler is just the last of a series of threats and intimidation made by Duterte and his minions on persons and institutions critical of his administration.

The first and foremost victim of government harassment is, of course, de Lima who remains in jail without being given the opportunity to defend herself in court.

Last year, the House of Turncoats under minion Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez threatened to reduce the budget of the Commission on Human Rights to zero after CHR Chair Jose Gascon criticized human rights abuses under the Duterte Administration.

Last week, Alvarez threatened to give local governments zero budget if they did not support the shift to federalism.

The same House of Bullies is also threatening to impeach Vice President Leni Robredo, Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, the three other prominent women highly critical of the administration.

And then, there are the threats made to opposition Liberal Party officials, who he said were plotting to oust him, not to mention the threats to feisty critic Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.

The President is obviously allergic to criticisms.

He has exploded into expletives and threats after hearing criticisms from the European Union, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the Human Rights Watch, U.S. President Barack Obama, and several members of both the Philippine and international media, including the prestigious New York Times and The Washington Post, which, by the way, wrote stinging editorials rebuking the SEC closure order on Rappler.

After the controversial order on Rappler, Duterte stepped up his attacks against media agencies, claiming that those critical of his administration were being used by their “elite” owners to protect their own interests.

He insisted that the recent government order to revoke its license to operate was not about curtailing the freedom of the press.

“It’s not a question of press freedom,” Duterte told reporters.

“It’s a question of abuse and protection by the elite of this country who hold the power. It’s about time you, the rich. Son of a bitch, stop your abuses. You are using the media.”

Taking a cue from their leader, leading members of the House of Turncoats are now proposing that only the “responsible exercise” of freedom of speech be protected under an envisioned federal Constitution, possibly laying the groundwork for sanctions against journalists critical of the government.

The congressmen, who are busy assaulting the Constitution through its self-proclaimed “constituent assembly” (con-ass) are proposing the inclusion of a qualifier to the freedom of speech provision under Article III, which would read: “No law shall be passed abridging the responsible exercise of the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

The proposal is just as stinky as the name of the body (con-ass) that now proposes it.

Press freedom and democracy are under siege.

The silencing of Rappler is one major step in this repressive regime’s march to authoritarianism.

We need to stand together to stop further assault on press freedom, dissent and democracy.

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