The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has stood by its decision to partner with news website Rappler to fight disinformation and promote voter awareness during the May elections following criticisms over the partnership.
"There are people who question this partnership with Rappler. But we stood firm on our decision," Comelec Commissioner Aimee Ferolino said during the poll body's signing of memorandum of agreement with Rappler on Feb. 24.
PRESS RELEASE: COMELEC to ink partnership with Rappler for 2022 polls pic.twitter.com/n2re3Ck1Mu— COMELEC (@COMELEC) February 23, 2022
"Because how else can we fight disinformation if we keep believing other people who say that Rappler is spreading disinformation?" Ferolino said, adding that the news website "can be a great help to the Commission and the country as a whole."
"The task of the Comelec became lighter with the help of Rappler," she added. "So, thank you for your help."
Spokesman James Jimenez, meanwhile, said they're, in fact, partnering with all media organizations to address election-related disinformation "in a proactive way."
"One of the challenges of working with Comelec is to make sure that the public has access to relevant, timely information," Jimenez said.
Commissioner Rey Bulay noted that the poll body opened the partnership to all media organizations, but it was Rappler who heeded the call.
"E sila ang nag-comply. Kasalanan ba nila kung magaling sila mag-comply?" Bulay said. "Rather than (criticize), e di mag-comply ka. Di naman kami pwede mag-etsa puwera ng gustong pumartner (sa amin)."
Bulay also underscored the weight of the high-stakes elections in May.
"Alam niyo ba kung gaano kaimportante itong political exercise na ito? This is the crème de la crème sa lahat ng election na nakita ko," Bulay said. "We hope and pray that this time, the Filipino people could help Rappler do its job of informing everyone."
Media organization National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC) took to Facebook to protest Comelec and Rappler's deal, claiming that it's "a contradiction that is unacceptable to most Filipinos."
Moments after the MOA signing, whose livestream on Comelec's Facebook page ended at 11:27am, the NPC shared the letter addressed to acting Comelec chairman Socorro Inting. It was written on Feb. 24 and was received at 11:55am.
"By the time you received this, the agreement between the COMELEC and online news site, Rappler...may have already been signed," NPC's letter read, signed by its president Paul M. Gutierrez of tabloid People's Tonight.
The NPC said that like the poll body, it wants "to see and experience a clean, credible, honest and transparent election."
"But your choice of Rappler, certainly, is a step in the wrong direction," it said, accusing the news website of having a "spotty record."
"It is an established fact that Rappler has a spotty record when it comes to the dissemination of 'truthful information' considering its record of gross bias in its reportage that resulted to (sic) its current legal woes," the letter read. "We are sure that you are familiar with them by this time."
Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa, for her part, said that even if they've "not always been the favorite of every administration," they're just fulfilling their journalistic duties.
"When Rappler was created in 2012, we began working with Comelec because we felt that, 'This is it,'" Ressa said during the same event.
"Comelec has a tough, tough job ahead and we would love to help in any way we can. Our track will be speaking for us," added Ressa.
Comelec first partnered with Rappler in the 2013 midterm general elections.