Rappler reporter removed from a House committee messaging group

CMFR/PHILIPPINES — A party list representative heading the House investigation on the government spending for its pandemic response called out in a hearing a Rappler reporter for its story on the Pharmally face shield anomaly; and removed the latter from the messaging group for media on 27 September 2021.

On September 24, it was revealed in a Senate committee hearing that  Pharmally Pharmaceuticals had tampered with the expiration dates of medical-grade face shields that they supplied to the government at the start of the pandemic. Pharmally snagged a multi-billion deal in the government’s COVID-19 response program despite its questionable financial capacity. The Senate hearing has a counterpart investigation in the House of Representatives.   

Rappler reporter Rambo Talabong tweeted on September 27 that he has been “removed from the Viber group” of the House committee on good government and public accountability by its chairman DIWA party list Representative Michael Aglipay. Prior to this, Aglipay had singled out Talabong for a report which quoted him as asking whether there were cases of deaths or Covid-19 infection among health frontliners who used the supposedly expired face shields. Aglipay said  the report was “one-sided” because it did not include the explanation that face shields have a 36-month shelf life according to the Department of Health (DOH).

Rappler released a statement saying Aglipay’s move is a form of “bullying”

According to the statement, “Rappler wrote a story on that quote, coming as it did from no less than the head of the House Committee on good governance and a representative of a party-list organization which ‘aims to protect worker’s rights and promote worker’s welfare for a just and humane society.’”

Rappler further said that the representative faulted the organization for not including the DOH shelf life comment when “it is a fact that when Pharmally tampered with the expiration dates, it was past that 36-month shelf life, according to Pharmally’s own warehouse staff.” Rappler said that “this detail is therefore a non-issue that serves to muddle, not clarify, matters for readers glued to this scandal.”

Rappler condemned the act for restricting the journalist’s right to access, which is important especially now when the public has the right to know about the Pharmally deal that “costs billions of taxpayer’s money.’”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines Metro Manila chapter, in a statement condemned the act and stood firm “that no journalist should be singled out and be barred from covering government offices and personalities.” And reiterated the call to “defend press freedom and stop the attacks against journalists.”

It was not the first time that Talabong was removed from a media coordination channel by a government official. In May 2019, the Rappler reporter was removed from the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) messaging group after the organization broke the story on then NCRPO chief Major Debold Sinas’ birthday celebration inside Camp Bagong Diwa which violated quarantine protocols. 

The government, on several occasions, had also banned Rappler from covering State events since 2018. This was after President Rodrigo Duterte banned Rappler and its reporter Pia Ranada from covering him on 20 February 2018. The ban was extended to the President’s presence in events in the regions.