Philippines

NBI probe on Rappler not harassment: Aguirre

NBI probe on Rappler not harassment: Aguirre

MANILA (Philippines News Agency)  — Justice Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II on Thursday said the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) probe on the possible criminal liabilities of executives of online news website Rappler is neither a “fishing expedition” nor a move to kill press freedom.

Aguirre made the comment after Rappler issued the statement slamming the NBI’s move as a “fishing expedition and pure and simple harassment.”

“The statement of Rappler is clearly unfounded and most unfair to the good men and women of the NBI and of the Department of Justice as a whole. Department Order 17 which granted to the NBI the authority to conduct investigation and case build up over possible violation of the constitution and laws by Rappler, was never intended to interfere nor violate press freedom,” Aguirre said in a statement sent to reporters covering the DOJ.

Aguirre tasked the NBI to conduct an investigation and case build-up over the possible violation of the Constitution and other laws by the media outfit.

“We want to emphasize that your DOJ respects press freedom. However, to borrow the words of the National Press Club, responsible journalism means compliance with the law,” he added.

He added that the investigation is within the mandate of the department that includes “investigating crimes, prosecuting offenders and overseeing the correctional system.”

“When the Constitution or any law has been violated by Rappler, necessarily the DOJ will be involved in its investigation, otherwise the DOJ will be remiss in its duties. We acted after receiving an official communication from the SEC which included a copy of their decision on the Rappler case,” he added.

Aguirre said the DOJ launched the probe after receiving an official communication from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) which included a copy of their decision revoking the incorporation papers of Rappler.

“Rappler should welcome this investigation so that it will have the chance to prove the innocence it claims to have. We call on Rappler to actively participate in the investigation of the NBI,” he said.

“Your DOJ is only after the truth, we owe the Filipino people that much. Rappler’s active participation in the NBI’s investigation will greatly help in bringing out the truth,” Aguirre added.

Aguirre added that the Constitution is absolute in saying that ownership and management of mass media in the country is exclusive 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,” Aguirre said.

The body conducted its investigation upon the request of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) in December 2016.

Solicitor General Jose Calida said he asked the SEC to probe Rappler after reading the newspaper articles of former ambassador to Cyprus and Greece Rigoberto Tiglao, who disclosed in October 2016 that two American companies, Omidyar Network, Inc. and North Base Media, in 2015 “made substantial investments” in Rappler.

Calida said the decision of the SEC to revoke the incorporation papers of the online news site was about following the “rule of law.”

On Monday, the SEC cancelled the registration of Rappler, Inc., the mass media entity that “sold control” to foreigners, and Rappler Holdings Corporation being its alter ego, “existing for no other purpose than to effect a deceptive scheme to circumvent the Constitution.”

It cited foreign equity restriction in the Constitution, Presidential Decree and the Securities Regulation Code which provide that “the ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations or associations wholly owned and managed by such citizens.”

The SEC En Banc also declared Omidyar Philippine Depository Receipts (PDR) void for “being a fraudulent transaction within the ambit of Section 26.1 of the Securities Regulation Code.”

In October 2015, Rappler Holdings Corp. issued 7,217,257 PDRs covering shares of Rappler Inc. designated as ON PDRs because they were sold to Omidyar Network Fund LLC, a foreign juridical entity.

Rappler Holdings publicly reported that it received an investment from Omidyar Network LLC. (PNA)

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