Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday defended a decision to bar Rappler news website reporters from the presidential palace, accusing the outlet that has criticized his government’s brutal drug war of possibly being funded by the CIA.
During a rant in front of journalists, Duterte admitted to “invoking executive action” that effectively barred Rappler from covering Malacañang Palace.
Rappler, he said, might be “CIA sponsored.”
“That is the history of America, CIA, and the political dissenters,” Duterte told reporters in the central Philippine town of Sara, according to excerpts of the exchange released by the presidential palace.
“They take care of them and eventually pick a candidate they can collude with just like what is happening at present.”
Rappler “can come back again” and assign a reporter at the presidential beat once the outlet proved that it is legitimately Filipino, according to the president.
“No problem with me. But unless they are not legitimate, since it is not a Filipino-owned (site), that is illegal,” Duterte said.
Administration officials have complained about the hard-hitting online news site. Rappler has closely covered the Duterte administration’s anti-drugs crackdown, which has left thousands of suspected drug dealers and addicts dead since he took office nearly two years ago.
In January, the government’s corporate regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, ordered the news site shut down for allegedly violating a constitutional requirement, which reserves ownership of Philippine media firms for Filipinos.
The commission said two U.S.-based groups held “Philippine Depository Receipts,” or PDRs, issued by Rappler, effectively making them part owners of the firm.
Rappler has protested the order and filed an appeal.
Duterte’s officials had earlier said that Rappler reporters would be allowed to cover the palace, pending a final ruling on the matter.
But its presidential beat reporter this week found herself shut out from the palace compound, causing a backlash from media groups who said the move was tantamount to censorship.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) expressed “grave concern” at the government’s ban on Rappler.
“FOCAP considers this as a blatant attack on freedom of the press, a right guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution and the United Nations,” the group said, and stressed the “critical role” of a critical press to a functioning democracy.