Manila—In a press conference in Manila, Philippines, on Monday, April 22, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte accused journalists of propagating fake news for the purpose of unseating the strongman.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo referenced a matrix published in The Manila Times that showed alleged connections between journalists and a plan to oust the President. Mr Panelo said this matrix came from the President himself, and that he had intended to release this information on the same day.
At a press briefing, Mr Panelo said “The source of that (matrix) is from the Office of the President. It’s from the President himself. “I was supposed to release it today.”
Written by Dante Ang, the owner and chairman emeritus of The Manila Times, the article entitled “Oust-Duterte Plot Bared” draws alleged connections between a number of organizations that have been critical of the president with a plan to destabilize his government.
Mr Ang wrote that members if the media use fake news for the purpose of manipulating “public emotion, touch base with the Leftist organization, enlist the support of the police and the military, then go for the “kill.”
He quotes that a source within the Office of the President as saying, “There is a plot to discredit the President and destabilize his government. There’s an obvious pattern of close coordination among some media organizations for the timely publication of anti-Duterte stories.”
Mr Ang included a matrix that showed the connection between a certain “Bikoy,” supposedly “the source of black propaganda,” and veteran journalist and known critic of Duterte, Ellen Tordesillas, who writes for the Vera Files.
News outfit Rappler, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), as well as the names of journalists and lawyers connected to these organizations, are also named in the matrix.
Mr Ang wrote, “From Bikoy, the stories go to Ellen Tordesillas, president of Vera Files, who acts as the nexus and distributor of the materials to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Rappler and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL). These organizations, in turn, distribute the false narratives to their respective members.
Save for the NUPL, a leftist group, the rest of the people from Rappler, Vera Files and the PCIJ named in the matrix are members of the media. It would now appear that these journalists are collaborating with the Left in their effort to destabilize the government, the matrix shows.”
Philippine journalists and lawyers respond
A few hours after the Manila Times article had been published, Vera Files’ Ellen Tordesillas released a statement on her Facebook account.
“Ellen Tordesillas’ statement on reported “Oust Duterte plot” alleging my and VERA Files’ involvement:
It’s downright false.
But what I find disturbing is, if this is the kind of intelligence report that the President gets and bases his actions and policies on, the country is in big trouble.
Maria Ressa, the CEO of Rappler, called the matrix “garbage” and “another Palace ploy to harass journalists.” Ms. Ressa is facing numerous lawsuits from the Duterte administration.
She tweeted, “It’s embarrassing for supposed ‘intelligence’ using i2 analyst notebook software to make fantasies look plausible. Go back to the drawing board. I’ve worked with many good folks in PH intelligence. Sad to see them reduced to garbage. Yet another Palace ploy to harass journalists.”
ABS-CBN’s Inday Espina-Varona, whose name also appears on the matrix, wrote, “There is no singular, proven fact in that hogwash — except that the ‘information’ came from Malacañang, the country’s seat of power. It just lumps names on organizational charts or bylines that have appeared on products and outputs of media orgs. I’ve said this several times: Disinformation doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The lies are always accompanied by on-ground attacks or they precede these attacks.”
Ms Varona expressed her solidarity with the journalists and organizations named in the Manila Times article and wrote,
“They are hounded for one reason: their stories and campaigns against disinformation and for freedom of the press and expression have gained traction.”
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers claimed the group is too busy defending and promoting human rights to be involved in an ouster plot. The NUPL issued a statement saying, “Criticism is not ousting. Lawyering is not destabilizing. At bottom, this allegation is not worth the paper it is written on. It is putrid rubbish. Garbage in — and so must — garbage out.
We are lawyers and are simply just too busy defending and promoting human rights especially of the basic sectors. We have our hands full advocating public interest issues. We do not have time for such hogwash accusations which will not even pass muster Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”/ TISG