President Rodrigo Duterte (Presidential photo)

MANILA – There is no basis to claim that President Rodrigo Duterte tramples on press freedom, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

This, after Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) included Duterte in the list of world leaders considered as “press freedom predators”.

“Absolutely bereft of merit,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing in Pampanga, when asked to react to Duterte’s inclusion in RSF’s 2021 list of “press freedom predators”.

RSF, in a gallery published on Monday, said Duterte is among 37 heads of state in the world who “crack down massively on press freedom”.

“Collusion at all levels within the state apparatus” enabled Duterte to wage “total war” against journalists, RSF said.

RSF also noted that Duterte has an “arsenal that includes spurious charges of defamation, tax evasion or violation of capital legislation; rescinding broadcast licenses; getting accomplices to buy up media outlets and bring their journalists into line; and using an army of trolls to subject journalists to online harassment.

“Independent media outlets have assumed the role of opposition, with all the risks that this entails,” the media watchdog said.

RSF likewise claimed that Duterte’s “favorite targets” were private media entities Philippine Daily Inquirer, ABS-CBN Corp., and Rappler.

Roque, however, denied the allegations, stressing that press freedom in the Philippines remains “alive and well”.

He added that media firms that are critical to Duterte and his administration are not even facing any libel suit -- a proof that the President values press freedom.

“That’s part and parcel of course of the media group’s advocacy to promote freer press. Pero wala po talagang basehan na media predator ang ating Presidente (But there is really no basis to claim that our President is a media predator),” he said.

Roque added that Duterte had no hand in ABS-CBN’s failure to secure a new legislative franchise.

He said it was the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) who decided to revoke the certificate of incorporation of Rappler Inc. and Rappler Holdings Corp. for allegedly violating the 1987 Constitution and foreign equity restrictions in mass media.

“[Sa] ABS-CBN, iyan po ay desisyon ng Kongreso. At ang Rappler naman po ay sinabing lumabag sa Saligang Batas ng SEC na lahat po ay appointed pa ni dating president (Benigno Aquino III). (On ABS-CBN’s case, it is the Congress that made a decision. On the other hand, SEC composed of former president Benigno Aquino III appointees ruled that Rappler violated the Constitution),” Roque said.

ABS-CBN, upon the directive of the National Telecommunications Commission, ceased its broadcast operations on May 5, 2020, or a day after the expiration of its congressional franchise.

On the other hand, SEC, in a decision dated January 11, 2018, said Rappler Inc. and Rappler Holdings Corp. have failed to comply with a provision in the Constitution on mass media ownership. (PNA)