SC: Petition against Former President Duterte’s Ban on Rappler from Presidential Coverages Now Moot
February 2, 2024
“Truly, freedom of the press remains one of the cherished hallmarks of our democracy.”
This was stressed by the Supreme Court as it dismissed, due to mootness, the petition challenging the ban implemented by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) preventing Rappler, Inc. (Rappler) and its journalists from covering events involving then President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (President Duterte).
The Supreme Court En Banc, through Associate Justice Maria Filomena D. Singh, denied the petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction filed by Patricia Marie I. Ranada, Mara Alyssabel D. Cepeda, Raymon G. Dullana, Franklin Y. Cimatu, Mauricio E. Victa, Camille Kristina S. Elemia, Ralph Martin S. Rivas, Baltazar Espinosa Lagsa (collectively, the Rapper Journalists), and Rappler (collectively, the petitioners).
The petition prayed that the Court issue the necessary writs to prohibit the respondents Office of the President, Office of the Executive Secretary, PCOO, Media Accreditation Registration Office, and Presidential Security Group (collectively, the respondents), from implementing a ban that would prevent Rapper and its journalists from covering any and all newsworthy events involving the presence and/or participation of President Duterte, and to declare the ban void.
After the filing of the Rappler Petition, three petitions-in-intervention were subsequently filed with the Court by Dr. Florangel Braid, et al., who are journalists and media practitioners; Bartholome T. Guingona, et al., composed of student journalists as well as members of the academe; and Pagbabago@Pilipinas Foundation, Inc., a foundation and the organizer of MediaNation, a network of media practitioners (collectively, the petitioners-in-intervention).
Following the revocation by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Rappler’s Certificate of Incorporation in 2018, Rappler’s accreditation as member of the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) was not renewed. This resulted in Rappler’s journalists being prohibited from attending presidential events, essentially those where President Duterte was in attendance.
The petitioners claimed that the prohibition was based on three verbal declarations by President Duterte against Rappler, including those made in a media interview on January 16, 2018, where the President declared Rappler as a “fake news outlet,” stating “Kaya ko kayong bastusin ‘yang p***** i** xxx ‘yang Rappler, pati kung mayroon ako.” In another event on March 1, 2018, the then Chief Executive issued a broader order against petitioners, declaring: “Kaya bawal ngayon sila. That is my order. Do not talk to people who will produce lies out of your statements. And who can twist it forever to the angle that they would like it to.”
Respondents, however, claimed that the alleged ban was in actuality nothing more than a failure of the petitioners to abide by the rules and procedures governing accreditation for journalists to be able to enjoy access to presidential events.
In resolving the petitions, the Court stressed the necessity of an actual case or controversy as a prerequisite to the exercise of its power of judicial review, and that, in its absence, a case is to be considered moot and no longer a proper subject of review.
Reiterating its ruling in the 2021 case of Pangilinan v. Cayetano, the Court held that an actual case deals with conflicting rights that are legally demandable and enforceable, adding that a constitutional question “may not be presented to this Court at an inopportune time. When it is premature, this Court’s ruling shall be relegated as an advisory opinion for a potential, future occurrence. When belated, concerning matters that are moot, the decision will no longer affect the parties.”
Further, the Court held that courts must avoid resolving hypothetical problems or academic questions, adding that such “exercise of judicial restraint ensures that the judiciary will not encroach on the powers of other branches of government.”
In the present case, the Court found that there would no longer be any practical value in a judgment from the Court. Not only is President Duterte, whose acts were assailed as violative of constitutional rights, already out of office, it also does not appear that Rappler remains without access to presidential events under President Duterte’s successor, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. based on the list of MPC members as of February 20, 2023, as well as an opinion piece published by Rappler.
The Court added that while there are exceptions to the doctrine of mootness, some of which might seem present in this case, the Court still cannot rule on the substantive issues “not only as an exercise of judicial restraint, but also because there are a number of factual questions which would prevent the Court from rendering an instructive ruling.”
As previously held by the Court in Gios-Samar, Inc. v. Department of Transportation and Communications, while the Court has original and concurrent jurisdiction with the Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals in the issuance of writs of certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus, direct recourse to the Court is proper only to seek resolution of questions of law.
“We are not equipped, either by structure or rule, to receive and evaluate evidence in the first instance; these are the primary functions of the lower courts or regulatory agencies,” stressed the Court.
The Court further explained that this doctrine of hierarchy of courts operates as a constitutional filtering mechanism designed to enable the Court to focus on the more fundamental tasks assigned to it by the Constitution. “It is a bright-line rule which cannot be brushed aside by an invocation of the transcendental importance or constitutional dimension of the issue or cause raised.”
In the present case, the Court found that there are certain issues that would require a factual determination, which prevents a characterization of the issues raised as purely questions of law.
The Court concluded by noting that while it refrained from ruling on the substantive issues in this case, it does not underscore the importance of a free press.
It also recognized that “the alarm of the petitioners, as well as the impetus for the efforts by the petitioners-in-intervention to join in this case, stem from the collective fear and outrage they express at the statements of President Duterte, which they perceive as attacks on journalists, the media, and on the press.”
“Indeed, it is plain to see why the petitioners and the petitioners-in-intervention find these statements so troubling, to say the last, as they come from no less than the President of the country, who is solemnly tasked with the duty to see that our nation’s laws are faithfully executed, and that the Constitution is at all times upheld.” (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)
FULL TEXT of G.R. No. 246126 (Patricia Marie I. Ranada, et al. v. Office of the President et al., June 27, 2023) at: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/246126-patricia-marie-i-ranada-et-al-vs-office-of-the-president-et-al/
FULL TEXT of the Dissenting Opinion of Senior Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen at: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/246126-dissenting-opinion-justice-marvic-m-v-f-leonen/