The government on Monday warned the press against plotting to “destroy” President Rodrigo Duterte’s government, as his spokesman confirmed a newspaper report that some journalists and lawyers were plotting to destabilize the administration.
In a Palace press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the diagram or “matrix” linking journalists from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Rappler and Vera Files to an “oust Duterte” plot published by the Manila Times came from the President himself.
“The source of that is from the Office of the President, from the President himself,” Panelo said.
“I think [it’s reliable] considering he is the President. He has so many sources, so that’s validated,” he continued. “And since it’s from the President, you should believe it.”
The Palace warning followed recent news reports alleging the Duterte family’s involvement in illegal drugs and raising questions about a large increase in their wealth.
“They are all there doing their thing, trying to destroy this government by spreading false news and planting intrigues against the government,” Panelo said.
He released a graphic which he said showed how a video of a hooded man alleging the Duterte family’s role in the narcotics trade was shared by one journalist to colleagues employed by other news organizations.
The news organizations named have all reported extensively on Duterte’s crackdown against illegal drugs that has left more than 5,000 suspects dead at the hands of the police in what rights groups have said may be a crime against humanity.
Panelo said the ouster allegations were based on information shared by a foreign intelligence agency, which he would not name.
“In other words, what these people are doing is to give succor or assist the enemy, if they are not the enemy themselves,” Panelo said.
Last week, Duterte publicly lashed out at the PCIJ, which published a report about the rise in the President’s net worth.
“In the coming weeks, I will return the favor. So Philippine Investigative, you better stop,” Duterte said.
Panelo said Monday the Duterte government was putting these journalists and news outfits on notice but would not pursue legal action against them “for now.”
“But if the plot thickens and they perform acts which are already violation(s) of the penal laws, that’s a different story,” Panelo added.
The comments came weeks after the government twice briefly detained Maria Ressa, chief executive of the online news site Rappler over tax evasion, securities fraud, and other charges.
Panelo named Ressa and Rappler, PCIJ, and Vera Files, among others, in the list of news organizations allegedly plotting against Duterte.
He accused Ellen Tordesillas, the Vera Files president, of spreading the video clip alleging Duterte family involvement in the narcotics trade.
Ressa, tweeting about the ouster allegations, called them “ludicrous” and “yet another (presidential) Palace ploy to harass journalists.”
Panelo said the government has “never stifled dissent in this country.”
Tordesillas called the supposed ouster plot “downright false,” while PCIJ has said its reports were all based on documents issued by Duterte himself in his required annual filings on assets and liabilities.
Duterte in previous years has also lashed out at other critical media outfits, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper and broadcaster ABS-CBN.
He threatened to go after their owners over alleged unpaid taxes or block the network’s franchise renewal application.
The President’s matrix allegedly showed the links between several media organizations and the National Union of People’s Lawyers with the “Ang Totoong Narco List” (The True Narco List) video series circulated on the Internet.
Panelo said he did not exactly know where the President acquired a copy of the matrix and what the matrix explains, but assured the public that the declassified document has been “properly vetted.”
Panelo said the people and organizations listed in the matrix want the administration to lose credibility through the release of “false news.”
Last week, the President said that he will reveal how media played a part in the videos making rounds online about the alleged links of Duterte’s family and closest allies to the illegal drug trade.
Duterte then urged the public not to believe that media organizations are clean, saying that some members of the press were being paid to pursue fake news stories.
The President also said the source of his information was a foreign ally—without naming the country.
Panelo said he did not have any information on this.
“I do not know which country. If he said that, you have to ask him. You can ask him… who provided him with the info,” he said.
He said that sharing of intelligence among countries was “standard.”
“If it affects the security of a particular country, they really share information,” he said... I’ve been hearing that ever since,” he added.
He also justified the release of the matrix.
“If there is an ouster plan, the people need to know it. It is our constitutional duty,” the Palace official said.
“They can do their worst, we’ll do our best. The Filipino people, apparently, do not believe them. Otherwise, the President’s reign would have ended already,” he said.
The news website Rappler slammed the Manila Times report, viewing it as an example of what journalists should avoid.
“This ‘matrix’ story is an example of how not to write an investigative report—not even everyday straight news,” Rappler said in a statement Monday.
“The Manila Times under Dante Ang, appointed special envoy for international public relations by President Rodrigo Duterte, is the reason why journalism schools and newsrooms in the country should be actively educating the youth and communities on what truthful, responsible, and ethical journalism is,” it added.
The PCIJ also disputed the Manila Times story written by Ang, saying it has never received an e-mail or a link to the so-called “Narco List” video by “Bikoy.” Nor has the PCIJ posted nor distributed any stories or comments on the Narco List video, it said.
The PCIJ also said the Manila Times story suggested that experts working with the Office of the President had committed a crime when they violated the privacy of the emails and correspondence of journalists being singled out.
For the record, it added, the matrix linked at least five people to the PCIJ who are no longer in its employ.
PCIJ also said receiving grants from foreign sources was not equivalent to foreign ownership.
“Truth be told, government agencies are the biggest recipients of foreign funding from the United States, Japan, China, Australia, and other multilateral and bilateral agencies,” it said, noting that since 2017, the state-run People’s Television and the Presidential Communication Operations Office have received from China’s state-run media donations of digital radio and other broadcast equipment.
Beijing has also brought a number of journalists and columnists, including those from The Manila Times, to China for a “professional exchange program.”
It added that a Manila Times columnist, Rigoberto Tiglao, was the co-founder and first treasurer of PCIJ and had helped raise seed money for its operations from the Asia Foundation and the Ford Foundation. He cited it at the time as “a success story of an NGO committed to a specific cause and funded by both foreign and local development agencies.”
The President’s daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte on Monday declined to say if she saw a concerted effort among the media organizations listed in the matrix to stir the public into toppling the government.
But she also said she had no obligation to explain her wealth to the PCIJ.
She suggested that the PCIJ hale her and her husband to a court if they found something worthy of filing a case against them.
Tordesillas discredited the Manila Times report.
“It’s downright false. It’s hilarious. 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,” Tordesillas said in a statement.
Journalist Inday Espina-Varona tagged the report as “hogwash.”
“There is no singular, proven fact in that hogwash. It just lumps names on organizational charts, or bylines that have appeared on products and outputs of media orgs,” she said.
The Department of Justice, meanwhile, has ordered a fact-finding investigation to determine the people behind the so-called “Totoong Narco List” videos that implicated the family of President Duterte in illegal drug trade.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he has directed the DOJ’s Office of Cybercrime to coordinate with the National Bureau of Investigation to find out those behind the videos and to build possible criminal cases against them.
Aside from identifying the alias “Bikoy” in the videos and the individuals behind them, DOJ chief said the probers are also tasked to determine possible criminal charges that can be filed against the identified persons.
The DOJ started its investigation after President Duterte himself said last week that he would retaliate against those behind what he described as black propaganda against him and his family.
Duterte warned those behind the videos to lay off his children, especially his 14-year-old daughter Veronica or Kitty.
He vowed to reveal those behind the propaganda.
Bikoy, the narrator in the videos, accused the President’s children Paolo and Sara and her husband Manases Carpio as well as his partner Cielito “Honeylet” Avanceña and their daughter Kitty of benefitting from the illegal drug trade.
The narrator alleged that Honeylet was receiving money from drug syndicates through bank accounts in the name of Kitty.
The Philippine National Police has also started tracing the source of the videos to unmask the people behind them.
PNP chief Oscar Albayalde on Monday said they will be investigating the primary movers of the possible destabilization plot against the President.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines, meanwhile, said plots against Duterte would not prosper.
“Every time we have a new president, there is always that possibility to have him/her removed. But for now, we do not see any specific threat. There are those coming up with information but there is no specific threat,” AFP public affairs office chief, Col. Noel Detoyato, told reporters.
But the PNP is looking into the possibility that the video circulating on social media linking President Duterte’s former aide and senatorial bet Christopher Go and three members of the Duterte family are benefiting from the illegal drugs is part of a supposed destabilization plot against the administration.
Albayalde said those people behind the videos should present evidence before the courts if they want to prove that Go, Sara Duterte and her husband Mans Carpio, and presidential son Paolo Duterte are involved in illegal drugs.
In four sets of videos, a man, who identified himself as “Bikoy,” tagged Paolo, President Duterte’s partner Honeylet Avanceña, Carpio and Go as among those who take multi-million-peso bribes from drug syndicates.
“I’m sure it is not only Bikoy. There is somebody working behind him because what Bikoy says is all scripted. I am sure there is somebody financing this. I’m just not sure how big the financial support is,” Albayalde said.
Administration allies in the Senate played down the reported ouster plot against the President.
“The cat is out of the bag. It does not have wings, therefore won’t fly,” said Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
Pimentel said he has yet to hear any plot as he urged the public not to entertain such ideas.
“In a democracy like ours, political leadership should be determined by the ballot,” he said.
Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares and party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate also dismissed as false allegations that they were conspiring with journalists to oust Duterte.
In a statement, the Bayan Muna said that attempts to link them to the plot were an “outright lie.”
“This supposed plot is so absurd and laughable were it not for the danger it poses to human rights lawyers and advocates,” Colmenares said.
“The wild allegations linking me to a supposed plot involving Bikoy and members of the media is utterly false and ridiculous,” he added.
Zarate said that the supposed plot was no different from the “Red October” plot that the military put forward last year, where opposition groups, including the Liberal Party, the Magdalo group and “communist groups” were said to have planned to oust Duterte.
The NUPL called Duterte’s claim “rubbish” as it hit the Manila Times report.
“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,” NUPL said in a statement signed by its chairman, Colmenares, president Edre Olalia, secretary general Ephraim Cortez, and adviser Zarate.
“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,” the statement said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, Rey E. Requejo, and PNAREAD: Kill-Duterte plot exposedREAD: Reds’ claim of CIA plot to kill Duterte ‘fabricated’READ: ‘Kill-Duterte’ plot revealed
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