Malacañang on Tuesday said President Rodrigo Duterte, who has repeatedly criticized media organizations throughout his presidency, was not a predator of press freedom in the Philippines.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque made the claim after Duterte was named among 37 world leaders labeled as press freedom predators by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The inclusion of Duterte in the list, Roque said, was bereft of merit.

“Kung titingnan ninyo po iyong findings ng ICC prosecutor, lahat po ng kinu-quote niya eh media na critical sa gobyerno. So that proves po that freedom of the press is alive and well in the Philippines, wala po ni isang kasong libelong sinampa ang presidente, wala pong kahit sinong mamamahayag na napakulong ang presidente,” Roque said.

Roque was referring to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its former prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who sought to probe the administration’s war on drugs.

Roque himself narrated how Duterte merely shrugged off the report for using media sources, which he said were based on hearsay and would not stand in court.

“Iyong mga issues na binabato nila kay presidente – ABS-CBN, iyan po ay desisyon ng Kongreso at ang Rappler naman po ay sinabing lumabag sa Saligang Batas ng (Securities and Exchange commission) na lahat po ay appointed pa ni dating Presidente Aquino. That’s part and parcel of course of the media groups advocacy to promote freer press pero wala po talagang basehan na media predator ang ating presidente,” Roque said.

The Philippines ranked 138th among 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

On July 10, 2020, House lawmakers including several allies of Duterte, who has had shaky relations with the network, voted to deny ABS-CBN Corp.’s bid for a new 25-year broadcasting franchise.

In December 2019, Duterte said he would see to it that ABS-CBN would not be granted a new franchise for not airing his TV advertisements during the 2016 election, and accused it of “biased” reporting.

The media watchdog said a handful of media outlets had become the president’s “favorite targets” for reporting critically of his regime.

Among Duterte’s “favorites” were the Philippine Daily Inquirer, ABS-CBN and Rappler, according to RSF. John Ezekiel J. Hirro