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.


Sri Lanka victims: Citizens of at least 12 countries killed

A Sri Lankan couple, whose family member was killed in a yesterday blast, leaves from a mortuary after identifying the body, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, April 22, 2019. (AP)
Updated 8 min 19 sec ago
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Sri Lanka victims: Citizens of at least 12 countries killed

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: At least 290 people were killed in a series of nine bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.
Sri Lankan authorities say at least 30 foreigners died in the attacks. A look at some of the countries whose citizens were among the victims:
SRI LANKA: The vast majority of the victims were believed to be Sri Lankan citizens, many of them members of the island nation’s Christian minority. Names of many victims and other details on their lives were slow to trickle in and difficult to report, in part because Sri Lankan authorities blocked most social media after the blasts.
But among them was Dileep Roshan, 37, a carpenter who left behind a wife and daughter, his family told The Associated Press.
“His wife and daughter won’t be able to do much now because he is gone,” his older brother, Sanjeevani Roshan, said. “The real question is what will happen to their future.”
UK: Sri Lanka’s top diplomat in Britain says authorities know of eight British nationals killed in the bombings.
Among them were lawyer Anita Nicholson, son Alex Nicholson and daughter Annabel Nicholson, her husband, Ben Nicholson, confirmed in a statement. Nicholson said the family was on holiday, sitting at the table of the restaurant of the Shangri-la Hotel when they were killed. He said: “The holiday we had just enjoyed was a testament to Anita’s enjoyment of travel and providing a rich and colorful life for our family, and especially our children.”
INDIA: Indian officials say eight Indians died in the attacks.
DENMARK: The Bestseller clothing chain confirmed Danish media reports that three of the children of its owner, business tycoon Anders Holch Povlsen, were killed in the attacks. However, spokesman Jesper Stubkier gave no details in an emailed response to a query on the matter and said the company had no further comment.
SPAIN: Spain’s foreign ministry says a Spanish man and woman were killed but didn’t provide further details. The mayor of Pontecesures in northwest Spain, Juan Manuel Vidal, tells Radio Galega he knew the local pair and says they were in their 30s, according to a report by Spanish private news agency Europa Press.
AUSTRALIA: Australia’s prime minister says a mother and daughter from that country were killed. Manik Suriaaratchi and her 10-year-old daughter Alexendria were attending a church service in Negombo when they died.
CHINA: Chinese state media say two of the country’s citizens died in the blasts.
UNITED STATES: The State Department says at least four Americans were killed and several others seriously injured. It gave no details about the victims’ identities.
Fifth-grader Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, spending a year in Sri Lanka on leave from the private Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., was among those killed, the school said in an email to parents, according to the Washington Post . The email said: “Kieran was passionate about learning, he adored his friends, and he was incredibly excited about returning to Sidwell Friends this coming school year.”
Dieter Kowalski, who lived in Denver and worked for international education company Pearson, died in the blasts shortly after he arrived at his hotel for a business trip, the company and his family told AP . A Friday Facebook post reads “And the fun begins. Love these work trips. 24 hours of flying. See you soon Sri Lanka!“
SWITZERLAND: The foreign ministry says two Swiss nationals, one of whom also had the citizenship of another country it didn’t name, died in the attacks. It said a third member of the family, who had two non-Swiss citizenships, also was killed. It didn’t identify the victims.
OTHERS: The Netherlands, Japan and Portugal have also confirmed their nationals were among the dead.