Rappler CEO Maria Ressa is seen at a court building in Manila, the Philippines, on March 4, 2021. A government task force recently threatened to take legal action against Rappler. (AP/Aaron Favila)

Philippine anti-communist task force threatens Rappler with legal action

Bangkok, February 8, 2022 – Philippine authorities must drop their legal threats against the independent news outlet Rappler and allow the press to work without fear of legal harassment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

On Saturday, February 5, Lorraine Marie T. Badoy, a spokesperson for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, a body tasked with responding to and raising awareness about communist activities in the country, published a statement on her official Facebook page saying that the task force “is taking legal action” against Rappler, according to news reports.

The statement accused Rappler of spreading “disinformation” in a January 31 article fact-checking statements by Badoy. She also said the task force would act against Facebook for allowing Rappler and Vera Files, the two local news outlets approved by Facebook to serve as fact-checkers, to “abuse the immense powers of [that] designation” and harm national security.

Gemma Mendoza, head of digital strategy at Rappler, told CPJ in a phone interview that the outlet had not received any official legal complaint, and that it was not clear under which law it could be charged.

“Philippine authorities must drop their frivolous legal threat against Rappler and stop harassing the independent news group and its employees,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Even in its waning days, the Duterte administration will stop at nothing to silence one of the Philippines’ most credible independent news outlets.”

The January 31 Rappler article labeled as “false” statements by Badoy claiming that members of the Makabayan Bloc minority political coalition included operatives affiliated with “communist guerillas.”

Previously, in March 2021, the task force accused Rappler of being a “friend and ally” of communist rebels over a separate fact-check, according to news reports.

The government practice of claiming journalists and activists are associated with banned communist or leftist groups is known as “red-tagging” in the Philippines, and has resulted in the wrongful criminal suits, detentions, and deaths, according to Rappler.

CPJ sent requests for comment to Badoy and the task force’s official Facebook pages, but did not receive any replies.

Last year, Rappler founder Maria Ressa received the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to safeguard press freedom amid legal threats in the Philippines. She also received CPJ’s Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award in 2018.