Panelo tells Rappler: Covering in Malacañang is a privilege

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 14) — It has been ten months since the Malacañang reporter of online news site Rappler was barred from the Palace, but this was shrugged off by President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman.

In a press briefing on Friday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo slammed a statement of Rappler head Maria Ressa that the ban on the news organization's Pia Ranada was unconstitutional.

"If that is true I'm wondering - why did she not challenge this stance of the Palace before the courts?" he demanded. 

Panelo explained that covering events and briefings in the Palace was a "privilege."

"Coming here in the Palace is a privilege and there are certainly rules that should be followed by members of the Malacañang Press Corps," he noted.

"Even if Pia was disallowed from coming here, the fact is, you just saw, she can still ask questions and we're still responding. She can still cover. Nothing has changed, just her physical presence."

Panelo made these statements after answering a question sent by Ranada on how the Palace defined "disrespectful behavior" in light of its announcement that cabinet members could decline invitations to congressional hearings if they felt they would be disrespected.

Malacanang had earlier said that Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno was ridiculed at a plenary session of the House of Representatives on Tuesday where he was invited to answer questions on the proposed 2019 budget.

READ: Palace berates Congress for 'disrespecting,' 'mocking' Diokno  

Malacañang had barred Ranada from the Palace grounds and from covering the President after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler's business license last January.  The Palace ban was widely-regarded as a violation of press freedom and an attack on media critical of the administration.

The SEC had charged that Rappler committed fraud and circumvented the constitutional provision on foreign ownership by accepting over $1 million (around ₱50 million) in investments from the U.S.-based Omidyar Network. The news website challenged the decision and the case is still pending before the Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, Ressa was charged with tax evasion and had to post bail after an arrest warrant was issued on her.

The Rappler head was among the journalists hailed as 2018 Person of the Year and dubbed as "guardians on the war on truth" by Time Magazine.