No attempt to suppress press freedom, insists Philippine government

Students of the University of the Philippines participate in a protest to defend press freedom in Manila on Jan. 16, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 16 January 2018
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No attempt to suppress press freedom, insists Philippine government

MANILA: The Philippine government on Tuesday denied that a decision to revoke the business registration of online news site Rappler was to suppress media freedom in the country.
Several media and human rights groups, as well as senators, lambasted the decision, calling it an “assault against democracy.”
Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler, insists that the decision was politically motivated.
“It’s clear, it’s harassment and it has an end goal,” she said. Despite the order, Ressa said “it’s business as usual” for Rappler and that they will continue to report news.
“You can look at the decision itself and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) itself has said that the investigation was triggered by the government itself. So look at the actions, words are cheap,” she added.
In a press briefing on Tuesday in Malacanang, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. decried Rappler’s claim that the SEC decision to revoke its certificate of incorporation over constitutional violations was an attack on press freedom.
Roque gave his assurance that Rappler reporters would not be prevented from exercising their duty as journalists in the light of the SEC decision.
“The truth is, the reporter of Rappler is still in our press briefing. She is not being prevented from exercising her profession as a journalist. None of the individuals behind Rappler will be prevented from performing their duties as journalists,” he said.
But Ressa told Arab News: “I respect Malacanang’s opinion, it’s his opinion, but we look at actions. And if you look at actions it’s very clear how this is politically motivated.”
Ressa said the government has long targeted Rappler, as she cited remarks made by President Rodrigo Duterte in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year.
In his second SONA last July, Duterte launched a scathing attack on media organizations critical of his administration. It was also then that the President said Rappler is foreign-owned.
After that, Ressa said, SEC decided to form a special panel to conduct a formal, in-depth examination of Rappler Inc. for possible violations of nationality restrictions on ownership and/or control of mass media entities.
Ressa further noted that not only was the SEC decision rushed, but it also imposed severe sanctions on Rappler.
“The other part is the severity of the penalty,” she said, citing a previous case of a telecommunications company whose ownership was also looked into by the commission. Apart from being given a year to fix the problem, Ressa said: “Certainly nothing was canceled, no investment was canceled and no licenses were revoked.
“So for me that alone, the severity of the penalty, shows you a political thread.”
The spokesperson of Malacanang said that the SEC decision was based on its own findings that Rappler, Inc. and Rappler Holdings Corporation violated the constitutional provision of limiting the ownership of media entities to Filipinos.
Citing the SEC decision, Roque said the news organization issued Philippine Depository Receipts (PDRs) in favor of foreign investors.
“You see here an instance where although they are not shareholders, nonetheless, the holders of the PDRs are given the same right to control the company in terms of amending the articles and bylaws,” he explained, adding that the move was a circumvention of the prohibition set by the Constitution.
Roque added that although the state should not in any way suppress press freedom, it should also not exempt anyone, media outlets included, from complying with the country’s laws.
“Particularly when you’re talking of a media outfit in the exercise of public trust criticizing government officials for violating the Constitution and the laws of the land, I would hope that they would be first and foremost compliant with all constitutional and legal requirements themselves,” Roque said of Rappler.
Ressa said: “For me it is business as usual. This is what I told our reporters. We continue asking the tough questions, we continue holding the line.”
She admitted, however, that the decision was enough reason for journalists in the country to be alarmed.


US Senator Graham urges Trump to meet Pakistan PM Khan

Updated 20 January 2019
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US Senator Graham urges Trump to meet Pakistan PM Khan

  • US and Pakistan should have “strategic engagement”, not transactional relationship
  • The American senator sees a “unique opportunity” to change diplomatic direction of US-Pakistan ties

ISLAMABAD:  US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday President Donald Trump should meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as soon as possible to reset long-difficult US relations with Pakistan and push for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.

The comments, which add to growing signs of improved relations between Islamabad and Washington, come amid efforts to press on with talks between the Taliban and the United States aimed at an agreement to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan.

"I've seen things change here and all in a positive direction," Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has generally been a staunch supporter of Trump, told a news conference in Islamabad.

He said a meeting with Khan, who has declared strong support for a peace agreement in Afghanistan, would leave Trump "far more enthusiastic about the region than he is today".

"With Prime Minister Khan we have a unique opportunity to change our relationship," he said. A previously transactional relationship, based on rewards for services rendered, should be replaced by "strategic engagement", including a free trade agreement, he said.

US relations with Pakistan have long been dogged by suspicions that elements in the Pakistani establishment were aiding the Taliban, a charge Islamabad strongly denies. However, relations have appeared to improve in recent months amid efforts to push the Taliban towards a peace deal.

Trump, who has in the past argued for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan, has made it clear he wants to see a peace accord reached rapidly although the Taliban have so far refused to talk directly with the Afghan government.

Graham's trip to Pakistan coincided with a visit by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, and top military commanders including General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command.

Khalilzad left Islamabad without announcing a new date for talks with Taliban representatives, who have refused further meetings until the US side agrees to discuss a timetable for withdrawing its forces.

The uncertainty has been increased by reports that Trump is prepared to order more than 5,000 US troops out of Afghanistan, a move that would represent a sharp change in course from Washington's previous policy of stepping up military action against the Taliban.

With Afghan forces suffering thousands of casualties a year and struggling to hold back the Taliban insurgency, the reports have caused alarm in Kabul, prompting many close to the government to question the US commitment to Afghanistan.

Asked whether there had been confusion over the US message, Graham, who has called for a Senate hearing on Trump's plans to withdraw US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, said "without a doubt" but added that he did not believe Washington would stand by and allow a Taliban victory.

"The world's not going to let the Taliban take Afghanistan over by force of arms. That would be unconscionable," he told Reuters. "Any president who let that happen would go down in history very poorly."