Softly-softly

Softly-softly

SolGen Jose Calida

Now we are in the zone of wait-and-see. Or we now play a waiting game after the Commission on Elections suspended the implementation of its voter information campaign deal with news site Rappler after the Office of the Solicitor General asked the Supreme Court to nullify it.

Acting Comelec chairperson Socorro Inting signed the memorandum ordering the suspension, addressed to poll body spokesperson James Jimenez.

“Given the allegations against Rappler and the subsequent filing of the petition with the Supreme Court, it is judicious for the Commission to hold in abeyance the implementation of the provisions of the MOA (memorandum of agreement) until the issues are settled and/or decision of the court is rendered,” Inting said this week.

“All actions in connection with the MOA shall be deferred including coordination between the Commission and Rappler on matters of the MOA.”

Inting said the poll body would defend the agreement in court, which seeks to promote voter engagement and fight disinformation, before the high court.

“We cannot do anything but face the music, answer the petition and defend the MOA that we signed with Rappler,” she said at a press conference on Monday.

“Whatever decision that the court will render, we will abide [by it].”

Under the agreement with the Comelec, Rappler will mobilize its fact-checking network, which is a collaboration among 14 newsgroups and over 100 civil society organizations. Rappler, for instance, will alert the Comelec about false and misleading election-related claims on social media.

Calida, in his Supreme Court pleading, argued that fact checks violated free speech, and that the “power granted by Comelec in favor of Rappler clearly constitutes prior restraint on freedom of speech and of expression.”

But some former Comelec officials and advocates for clean elections raised some alarm a day later, on Wednesday.

For former Comelec commissioner Luie Guia, it would have been better had the Comelec gone on with the agreement until a court order was issued against it.
“That way, it could have avoided the impression that it was unsure of the legality or wisdom of its actions or, worse, had succumbed to the pressure of the solicitor general, thus, compromising its independence,” he told the news site Rappler.

Election lawyer Emil Marañon shared a similar sentiment, claiming Calida’s allegations remained unproven.

“The things that Calida raised are actually not new, these are issues that were raised before. I’m pretty sure before the Comelec signed the partnership, at the very least, they are expected to do due diligence,” Marañon told the same news site.

Former Cory Aquino-appointed Comelec chairman and 1987 Constitution framer Christian Monsod also criticized Calida for seeking to stop the partnership deal.

“The Comelec always enters with media people an arrangement for them, and it’s fact-checking,” Monsod said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel ANC, adding “I think in terms of credibility, Rappler and the Comelec have a higher credibility than Mister Calida.”

In a one-page memorandum signed by Comelec acting chair Socorro Inting, all activities in connection with the fact-checking MOA are ordered on hold.

“Given the allegations against Rappler and the subsequent filing of the Petition with the Supreme Court, it is judicious for the Commission to hold in abeyance the implementation of the provisions of the MOA until the issues are settled and/or decision of the court is rendered,” Inting said.

“All actions in connection with the MOA shall be deferred, including coordination between the Commission and Rappler on matters of the MOA,” she added.

Last month, the OSG sent a letter to Comelec, asking it to unilaterally rescind the MOA with Rappler because of undue delegation to Rappler of the Commission’s authority; its alleged violation of the Constitution and the laws; its alleged record of reporting false and grossly biased information; and its supposed violation of the State policy to be fully independent of foreign interference and secure integrity of elections.

In its petition, the OSG asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order and to declare the MOA as void.

On February 24, the Comelec and Rappler signed the agreement on voter engagement and fighting disinformation in connection with the upcoming May 9 national and local elections.

Election watchdog Kontra Daya said Calida was “dead wrong” in interpreting what fact-checking was.

“Fact-checking is related to the journalistic principle of truth-telling. At a time when there’s too much disinformation on the web and in real life, we have to appreciate the fact-checking initiatives of various groups,” Kontra Daya convenor Danilo Arao also told ANC.

In a statement after the petition was filed on Monday, Solicitor General Jose Calida reiterated his claim that Rappler was a foreign corporation and that its participation in the Philippine elections through the MOA was thus considered foreign interference, a violation of the country’s election laws and the 1987 Constitution.

These are interesting times indeed. And we, like other Filipinos tanned in the culture of politics in this country, will be watching how the Supreme Court will resolve the issue.

(ai/mtvn)

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