Rappler asks SC to junk Calida petition vs fact-checking deal with Comelec

In its comment filed with the High Court, Rappler insists that contrary to Calida’s claim, fact-checking is not tantamount to prior restraint because it checks statements already published and disseminated

MANILA, Philippines – News organization Rappler urged the Supreme Court on Monday, April 11, to dismiss and “not to glorify” the petition by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) against the now-suspended partnership between Rappler and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for the 2022 polls.

Solicitor General Jose Calida’s office had asked the High Court to void Rappler’s fact-checking agreement with Comelec, arguing that fact-checks violate free speech.

But in its comment, Rappler asserted that the very nature of a journalist’s work is to make sure that only the truth is reported.

“There can be no ‘prior restraint’ in the activity of ‘fact-checking’ since what is being ‘fact-checked’ are statements that have already been published and disseminated. On this basis alone, the OSG’s claim that ‘fact-checking’ constitutes ‘prior restraint’ must fail,” Rappler argued.

Rappler also insisted that the OSG made malicious misrepresentations about the true nature of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the poll body, such as claims that the news website would be able to filter information being reported, censor other media outlets, and massively dictate the outcome of the elections.

As pointed out by Rappler and the Comelec in the past, the provisions under the MOA are not exclusive to Rappler, as the Comelec has made similar arrangements with other entities.

‘Attempt to mislead’

Rappler also accused Calida’s office of attempting to mislead the Supreme Court by raising factual issues that have not been resolved with finality by the courts.

For example, the OSG had claimed that Rappler’s license had been revoked with finality, in light of the foreign investment through Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) of American philanthropist Pierre Omidyar.

While the Court of Appeals agreed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2018 that Omidyar PDRs amounted to some foreign control, the appellate court also remanded the case back to the SEC, urging it to give Rappler “reasonable time” to correct parts of the deal .

Rappler made clear in the comment it filed with the Supreme Court that Calida’s focus on the media organization’s partnership with the Comelec is his latest attempt to suppress Rappler and kill its business.

The OSG initiated nine cases against Rappler, whose investigative reports in the past probed how Calida’s family firm bagged multi-million-peso government contracts.

“[OSG’s] The petition is not one of the Filipino people, but of the Solicitor General who continues in his warlike offensive against Rappler on the heels of President Duterte’s publicly displayed seeming hatred of the Rappler,” it read.

Calida also has a history of going after critical media, as shown by his maneuvering in 2020 to shut down broadcast giant ABS-CBN.

Currently, Rappler’s MOA with the Comelec is not in effect, after Comelec Commissioner Socorro Inting succumbed to pressure and halted the deal on her own in March, when she was still the acting elections chief.

She had ordered that the MOA’s implementation be held in abeyance “until the issues are settled and/or decision of the court is rendered.”

Rappler had found Inting’s decision “regrettable,” given that the Comelec’s own lawyers studied the contract with Rappler prior to the MOA signing in February. – Rappler.com

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