SEC upholds decision to shut down Rappler

Image: King Rodriguez
Image: King Rodriguez

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has upheld its decision to revoke news website Rappler’s license to operate and their articles of incorporation, Rappler founder and Nobel Prize laureate Maria Ressa confirmed this morning.

Ressa made the announcement at the East-West Center’s international media conference in Hawaii.

“In an order dated June 28, our Securities and Exchange Commission affirmed its earlier decision to revoke the certificates of incorporation of Rappler Inc and Rappler Holdings Corporation. We were notified by our lawyers of this ruling that effectively confirmed the shutdown of Rappler,” it read.

Ressa also shared an excerpt from an internal announcement made to Rappler staff: “What does this mean? We have existing legal remedies all the way up to the highest court of the land. It is business as usual for us since in our view, this is not immediately executory without court approval.”

“Clarity, agility, sobriety. Review our drills and the tasks assigned to you. Meantime, it is business as usual for us. We will adapt, adjust, survive, and thrive.”

In another statement made on their website, Rappler wrote, “We thought this day would never come, even as we were warned in the first of week of December last year that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) would be handing down a ruling against us.”

“Because we have acted in good faith and adhered to the best standards in a fast-evolving business environment, we were confident that the country’s key business regulator would put public interest above other interests that were at play in this case… we were wrong.”

The organization added that the SEC’s kill order revoking Rappler’s license “is the first of its kind in history – both for the Commission and for Philippine media.”

“What this means for you, and for us, is that the Commission is ordering us to close shop, to cease telling you stories, to stop speaking truth to power, and to let go of everything that we have built – and created – with you since 2012.”

On Twitter, former and present Rappler reporters called the shutdown a final act by President Rodrigo Duterte before he steps down. President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. will be sworn into office on June 30.

Alternative media network Bulatlat, whose website was restricted by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) last week, stood by Rappler amid the decision.

“​​It is alarming how laws are weaponized to muzzle independent media. Administrative orders and other regulatory powers of government, such as franchise in the case of ABS-CBN, should not be used to trample upon press freedom and free expression,” it wrote.

The SEC’S order to revoke Rappler’s license is the latest development in a years-long campaign by the government to shut down the independent media organization over supposed constitutional violations regarding foreign ownership and control of mass media entities. 

In December 2016, the Office of the Solicitor General under Solicitor-General Jose Calida wrote to the SEC to investigate Rappler over its Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) from two foreign entities, Omidyar Network and North Base Media. In 2017, the SEC created a special panel investigating “possible violations of nationality restrictions on ownership and/or control of Mass Media entities.”

It first sought to revoke Rappler’s license in 2018.

In an explainer, Rappler debunked the claims, saying, “Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) do not indicate ownership. This means our foreign investors, Omidyar Network and North Base Media, do not own Rappler. They invest, but they don’t own. Rappler remains 100% Filipino-owned.”

“Issuing PDRs isn’t as unique or rare as some would like you to believe. This is the same case with large media groups in the Philippines.”

Rappler added that the SEC accepted the same Omidyar PDRs in 2015 that it had revoked three years later.

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