MANILA — The Philippines ordered the closing on Monday of an independent online news site that has been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, prompting protests from industry groups who called the move an attack on press freedom.
The Securities and Exchange Commission of the Philippines said the news site, Rappler, had violated a constitutional rule that restricts ownership of media entities to Filipinos.
The commission said that Rappler had employed a “deceptive scheme to circumvent” the rules, an allegation that the online publication denied and vowed to fight in court.
In a note to its readers, Rappler said that it had been warned last month that a ruling was being prepared but added that it had been confident the regulator would decide in its favor.
“The S.E.C.’s kill order revoking Rappler’s license to operate is the first of its kind in history — both for the commission and for Philippine media,” the note said.
“What this means for you, and for us, is that the commission is ordering us to close shop, to cease telling you stories, to stop speaking truth to power, and to let go of everything that we have built — and created — with you since 2012,” it added.
The Philippines has one of the region’s most freewheeling news industries. More than 30 newspapers have sprung up across the country since democracy was restored 32 years ago.
Rappler said that it had been consistently transparent and that it had told corporate regulators about its company structure when it started operating in 2012.
“Transparency, we believe, is the best proof of good faith and good conduct,” said Rappler, which has won local and international awards for its reporting of impunity in Mr. Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.
“This is pure and simple harassment, the seeming coup de grâce to the relentless and malicious attacks against us since 2016,” Rappler said.
The president’s office sought to distance itself from the order, saying it was the commission’s job to determine corporate legality.
“We respect the S.E.C. decision that Rappler contravenes the strict requirements of the law that the ownership and management of mass media entities must be wholly owned by Filipinos,” a presidential spokesman, Harry Roque, said.
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, formed in the 1970s to work for press freedom at the height of former President Ferdinand Marcos’s regime, expressed “deep regret” over the move.
“The decision, which is tantamount to killing the online news site, sends a chilling effect to media organizations in the country,” the group said.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines also denounced the government, calling the move a vendetta by Mr. Duterte and urging media workers in the country to protest.
Francis Pangilinan, leader of the opposition in the Senate, said the revocation of Rappler’s license was a blow against “truth-telling and journalistic integrity.”
“In a time of fear, of relentless attacks on our institutions, the abuse of power, and the feeling of helplessness that this breeds, we seek solidarity,” Mr. Pangilinan said.
The strongman Mr. Marcos closed down television networks and newspapers during his two-decade regime, and he jailed many opposition figures and journalists.
Mr. Marcos was ousted in 1986, and his successor Corazon Aquino helped introduce a Constitution that guaranteed press freedom, arguing that such a right was central to democracy.
Her son, Benigno Aquino III, Mr. Duterte’s predecessor, was often criticized by the news media, and he complained about being unfairly treated. He never made a move to restrict press freedom, however.
The last time a sitting president took aim at the news media was in 1999, when President Joseph Estrada sued the Manila Times over a report about corruption. The newspaper apologized, and Mr. Estrada dropped the suit, but the publication was eventually forced to sell.