Unwrapping Rappler

The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler’s certificate of incorporation. Rappler is a Philippine media organization that, in the Philippines, is required to be 100% Filipino-owned and controlled. However, it needs money to continue as a going concern and most of the money are in the hands of foreigners. How now?

It seems that other media organizations found the answer: Philippine Depository Receipts (PDR). I am no expert on this and what I know about them comes from reading two articles, both from the Inquirer. In simple terms, it is a participation in profits. The shareholder allows third parties to purchase a share in the profits earned by his stocks in the media organization. In this manner, the legal requirement on Filipino ownership is not breached because the stocks remain in the name of the shareholder. The investor only gets a part of the earnings (dividends) earned by the stock; so, they could not even participate in the management of the media organization. That’s the theory at least.

What Rappler offered its investors to their PDRs was a bit more than the regular PDR. They actually allowed the PDR investors to have a say if Rappler was ever inclined to amend its Articles of Incorporation or undertake some manner of reorganization. Under the Rappler PDR, you can’t do that unless the PDR investors says its okay to do so. Boom. They’re dead.

According to the SEC, that provision effectively gives the PDR investor a measure of control over the media organization, and if the investor is a foreigner — anyone other than a Filipino — you just violated the legal requirement of 100% Filipino ownership and control. The SEC, therefore, cancelled the PDRs. Makes sense to me.

Here’s where it doesn’t make sense: not happy with just cancelling the PDRs, the SEC went to the max and cancelled Rappler’s certificate of incorporation because it violated the legal requirement to be 100% Filipino. Why did they impose so extreme a penalty as cancelation of its certificate of incorporation? Many suspect the hand of the Government of which Rappler has been critical of. To be fair, Rappler was also critical of the previous administration but the current one, with its controversial war on drugs and cozy relationship with China, has been a far more frequent subject much to their discomfort. People, therefore, see this as payback.

As I noted before, PDRs are not unique to Rappler. Other media organizations like ABS-CBN and GMA have also issued PDRs, and some have been bought by foreign investors. However, the SEC points out that these PDRs do not have the controversial provisions that the Rappler PDRs have. Nevertheless, it was pointed out that PLDT, a telecom company also required by Philippine law to be 100% owned and controlled by Filipinos, also violated the 100% Filipino requirement when it issued its PDRs but they were allowed to rectify their mistake and PLDT still exists today. Why was the SEC then so harsh with Rappler?

The Commissioners of the SEC were appointed by the previous Administration; so, there are those who do not see this as payback. How could it be when these people are Aquino appointees but, in the Philippines, everything is possible and political butterflies thrive in great numbers. Perhaps they do not want to share in the fate of other heads of commissions and government agencies and instrumentalities who were unceremoniously kicked out for one reason or another. In this administration, a “single whiff” of corruption is supposed to be enough to have your head roll (but it also depends on who is doing the sniffing and who is being sniffed at as it appears that friends of the administration usually gets a free pass and just gets shuffled around the vast governmental bureaucracy). Are there skeletons in the SEC closet that could cause them their heads?

Or did the SEC just make an honest mistake when it imposed the ultimate penalty? It said that Rappler can still operate and it does have the right to ask the SEC to reconsider its decision and, failing that, appeal the same all the way to the Supreme Court, which, unfortunately for them, are majority pro-government. This Government in particular; so, good luck with that but at least there’s a chance no matter how slim, and with litigation cases moving at a snail’s pace in Philippine courts, they may even survive this Administration and get a reprieve in the next.

The Inquirer articles on the PDR says in Rappler’s defense that the controversial provision is just a measure of investor protection; however, if that protection also grants them some control over the company, and the investors are foreigners, then that still violates the legal requirement to be 100% Filipino-owned and controlled. The Rappler’s lawyers should have carved that out; and investors are left with the choice of take it or leave it. It should be noted that other Rappler PDRs were not cancelled because there was no control granted to holders of those PDRs.

For now though, some people suspect that there is an attack on the free press with the Government setting its eyes next on the Inquirer. For sure, the Administration has not been happy about the coverage it has been getting from these two but, usually, governments just let it slide. It is after all the hallmark of a healthy democracy to have a free press. With populism so very in these days, however, democracy seems so last century.


Living in Fear

In the past week, the Philippines saw a number of anti-drug operations carried out by the police in various locations. Around 80 people were killed during those operations. One stood out: a young boy of 17. The police say he shot at them with a .45 and was killed when they returned fire. However, CCTV footage allegedly shows that the boy was accosted by two police officers and followed by a third who took him to a secluded spot. Witnesses allege that the boy was intimidated, given a gun, told to run, and shot. The death has caused an uproar on social media. A rally has been scheduled on the 21st of August, the day when the country recalls the death of Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr. The event that spelled the beginning of the end of the Marcos regime.

However, there are two sides to every story and the truth, they say, is somewhere in the middle. One side has the boy as an innocent victim of police abuse in the War on Drugs; while another view says that the boy is far from innocent and was in fact involved with illegal drugs. Some versions of the latter story has his father as the dealer and the boy, a runner for his illegal drugs business. Some say he is, himself, a dealer, while others have him as a mere user. Even if this story is true, whatever version it may be, does that fact prove the alleged CCTV and eyewitness accounts wrong? Hardly. At most, it only shows that he was not the innocent people think he was but how does that change the whole thing?

Even if someone, anyone, is known to be a pusher, runner, dealer or user of illegal drugs, does it make it right to bring him to an isolated spot, give him a gun, order him to run and shoot him? Even assuming he is guilty, is it necessary to kill him? What’s the point?

In the first place, if he is actually known to be involved in illegal drugs, then wouldn’t it be easier to find witnesses and other evidence against him, prosecute him, and send him to jail?

Further, if they want us to believe that he was armed with a .45 and took a shot at them, then they first have to convince us where in the world he hid it considering the way he was dressed at the time. If they will also insist on such an out of this world idea, then we will have to question their ability to comply with police procedures because we have to ask: didn’t they search the boy before they walked away with him? There were two with him followed by another. Three cops who failed to observe simple police procedures? It is easier to believe that they were in fact intentionally disregarding police procedures taking the boy away as they did that night. That’s the suspicion anyway.

Finally, did they think that killing one person will put the fear of God in other pushers, dealers, runners or users? I think not. They live with that fear every single day of their lives and in all probability have accepted it. So, who actually fears such unnecessary killing? It is the innocents. Now they fear the police who they see as out of control, picking people off the streets and shooting them to add another statistic to the War on Drugs. Reuters, the BBC and Al Jazeera all posted articles showing how police officers (and gun for hires) are getting paid for every kill in the War on Drugs. Scratch one more to the tally.

Was that the whole point of the killing then? When the president says that if they kill 32 a day, they solve the drug problem in the country, was this their contribution to the 32 required? Was the boy killed for a scorecard? Was he killed just for a few pesos?

Here’s the thing: somehow, somewhere, someone is going to say enough is enough and take action. That action can be as simple as a non-violent protest march to, God forbid, violent revolution. What it will be depends largely on how much more the country can take. An article on the Internet says that to eradicate inequality, you need large scale famine or pestilence to kill off large swaths of the population. That, or violent revolution of the Russia or China kind. We don’t have pestilence anywhere. Violent revolution though may just be around the corner.

Something else to be fearful of…


The Shepherd

Once in a while, we try to understand how we get the leaders we get. Unfortunately, it happens more often in the Philippines. Some have been okay, some better, but, lately, it’s more “what the heck?” than anything else.

Take the current president, for example. We all know how he got elected. What we want to know is why? He says it’s all God’s fault. Of course, it can’t be that simple but in a country that is 70-ish percent Catholic or 80-ish percent Christian, such a statement has a logic of its own. We think we get the leader we deserve as God in His infinite wisdom decrees. To my mind, however, the two do not necessarily go together. We get what we deserve because we chose our leaders. God in His infinite wisdom will not interfere with the exercise of our freedom of choice. The Bible though might say otherwise.

Take King Saul, for example. Called to be king of all Israel and anointed by God’s prophet at the request of the people, he brought great ruin to the nation. “Saul” may not even be his name because that means “called for” or “asked for” since Israel was crying out to God for a king. According to the archeologist David Rohl, it is likely Labayu, which means Great Lion that is perhaps fitting for a king known to have fought bravely against the Philistines. Saul was said to be unskilled in diplomacy using inappropriate language although in his case it was more about using Hebrew rather than Akkadian. In the end, this man, hailed to be the first king of Israel, eventually led his army in a disastrous battle where three of his sons were killed and he committed suicide so that we wouldn’t fall into his enemy’s hands.

The point is that even if you are hailed to be the head of a state as king or president, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will do well at it or that you even finish it, or at least it may not end the way you thought it would. Saul/Labayu was king but he took his own life after the death of his sons in battle. Joseph Ejercito/Erap Estrada was elected president of the Philippines but was ousted from it about halfway through his term in office. I don’t think God is so cruel as to have imposed such leaders upon their respective nations. We made them our leaders and things went bad for them. God can only do so much for the leader or the nation.

Instead, it is up to the leader to actually do everything in his power to help his people. When David became king of Israel, he wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes. Yet, he found his way back to God and is remembered as a great king. Our president has a long way to go. He has decided to quit cursing. That’s a start. I do hope that sometime soon he will realize that drug users are human beings entitled to their full human rights. The fact that their reasoning and actions may have been affected by the drugs does not mean they are any less human. To get them away from drugs, we need to treat them as humans. When they start feeling more human, they don’t need drugs anymore. Killing them is just another way of giving up on them and that’s more a statement about us than about them.

The president is unconventional to say the least. He has his way and, sometimes, it works. More often, it doesn’t. Running a country needs more than just bravado. Machismo can only take you so far. It is easy to bluff your way through one meeting after another but, after a while, it all piles up and puts you in a corner. There are just some things you have to put in order, and you just have to learn how to lead your people. Filipinos who hold dual citizenship are still Filipinos and he is still their president whether he likes it or not, or vice versa. We need a shepherd.

Take Jesus, for example. The good shepherd. He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. Like the current president, His ways causes disagreements and fights. However, the one thing that differentiates the two, I mean the most glaring one as there are legion, is the fact that Jesus is motivated by love, for all. He sees everyone equally…as human beings that can be saved. Our president prefers to kill three million drug users rather than save them. His drug war has caused the death of over 3,000 Filipinos in around four months. We need him to be a good shepherd: to help us all and not just those he likes. We may be asking too much of this man but this is what it takes to be the president of this Republic.

We don’t need the president to be a philosopher-king. We don’t need him to be perfect. We just need him to be to be the president of all Filipinos.