Comelec calls Rappler ‘unprofessional’ for filing charges over MOA on election debates

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Rappler filed a lawsuit against Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista before the Supreme Court on February 19 for “granting exclusive broadcasting and livestreaming rights to handpicked media partners" in the election debates.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista on Saturday (February 20) said it was unprofessional for Rappler to sue him over the memorandum of agreement (MOA) on the coming presidential and vice presidential debates.

“I felt it was unprofessional on the part of Rappler to file the case,” Bautista said.

Rappler filed a lawsuit against Bautista before the Supreme Court (SC) on Friday (February 19) for “granting exclusive broadcasting and livestreaming rights to handpicked media partners" in the debates.

It said Comelec's decision violates the social news network's right to free press, and asked the high court's intervention to allow millions of Filipinos to watch the election debates on their mobile phones, tablets, and computers.

"Online news groups were excluded from the MOA in terms of coverage and live video streaming rights — a MOA Rappler signed based on good faith assurances that access would be granted. That didn’t happen," Rappler said in an article.

Also read: Comelec, media sign agreement on 2016 election debates

Bautista to Rappler: 'Abide by the contract'

Bautista explained that the poll body did not force the agreement to any media entity, and Rappler agreed to the terms when it signed the contract.

He said Rappler should have been responsible enough to read its provisions.

“I'm disappointed that after participating in the negotiations, after signing the contract then all of a sudden they're now backtracking and basically want out,” he said. 

He also urged Rappler to “abide by the contracts that they have entered into.”

The poll body chief said he is willing to argue the case before the high court.

Rappler: 'We were duped into signing debate agreement'

Rappler's lawyer Atty. JJ Disini argued that the discriminatory parts of the agreement were pointed out to Bautista.

"The discriminatory provisions were pointed out to the chairman," said Disini. "And the chairman assured Maria [Ressa] that these will be resolved."

Disini said Rappler "believed in good faith" that the Comelec would resolve these issues.

He said it is "self-serving" for Bautista to say that Rappler should just abide by the terms of the contract.

The meetings for contract negotiations were done without his client's knowledge. He said the selection of lead networks could have been more transparent, either through public bidding or public participation.

Disini pointed out there was no explanation why PTV-4, the state-owned television network, was excluded to participate.

He said it was alright for Bautista to give exclusive rights for the networks to earn. But if this was a money-making venture that the Comelec doles out to private companies, he said the selection process should be transparent, and not done through a negotiated contract.

There will be a presidential debate on Sunday (February 21) in Cagayan de Oro City, hosted by GMA-7 in partnership with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Meanwhile, CNN Philippines will host the vice presidential debate of the PiliPinas 2016 debate series on April 10 in Metro Manila. It signed a contract with Comelec on January 13 in partnership with Rappler and Business Mirror.

Also read: Four presidential candidates commit to Comelec debates

CNN Philippines’ Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.