No proof of ouster plot a week after ‘expose,’ VERA Files points out
MANILA, Philippines — News organization VERA Files on Monday called out Malacañang and the Manila Times, saying the allegation that three media outlets and a group of pro bono lawyers are conspiring to boot President Rodrigo Duterte out of office have yet to be substantiated.
In a statement Monday, VERA Files condemned what it called the “spread of falsehood” by presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo and Manila Times chairman emeritus Dante Ang, who is also the president’s special envoy for international public relations.
A diagram—released last week in an exclusive banner story of Manila Times and later that day in a press briefing at the Palace—alleged that the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, VERA Files, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and Rappler are plotting against Duterte and being linked to an anonymously posted video alleging the Dutertes are involved in illegal drugs.
“One week has passed and Malacañang and the Manila Times have not come up with anything to back up their false report alleging that journalists, news organizations and a lawyers’ group were involved in an oust-Duterte plot,” VERA Files said.
The Manila Times report was based on a quote by an unnamed “highly placed source” in the Office of the President, who was not quoted explaining or substantiating the claim. The Manila Times reported that “two other independent sources” confirmed the existence of an “active plot.”
Panelo, for his part, said the source of the “matrix” was the president himself and that it had undergone the vetting process. The president’s spokesman stuggled to explain the diagram to reporters when he showed it at a press briefing on April 22.
Despite the supposed vetting, the story written by Ang was “completely false,” the VERA Files stressed.
“Even worse, Duterte, Panelo and Ang didn’t even bother to verify the information in the so-called matrix,” it said, noting that Luz Rimban and Jennifer Santiago—who were named in the OP document—had already left the organization and that female trustees named were identified as male.
In a column on Monday, Manila Times’ Ang said he stands by the story.
“A solitary matrix, especially if it came from the Office of the President, is a story in itself. There was absolutely no need, or an urgent need on the same day, to have another source — as the PCIJ, NUJP and Rappler would say in criticizing me — before printing the story,” he said.
“I did not accuse those named in the matrix as being involved in the plot against the president; I merely quoted the matrix,” he also said. “I did not even comment on it; just reported it. I did not fill in the inadequacies of the matrix because none was offered by my source.”
Journalist Inday Espina-Varona was also tagged in the matrix as member of NUPL despite not being a lawyer.
PCIJ last week also pointed out that it did not receive any email from VERA Files president Ellen Tordesillas sharing the link for the so-called narcolist of “Bikoy” and it had not posted any story or commentary on the videos. It also noted that at least five people named in the matrix are no longer with them.
Even Felipe Salvosa, the former managing editor of Manila Times, said the matrix story was “poorly sourced.”
“As an editor, as a journalist, I would have suggested to delay the publication for maybe a day or two and call up all the names mentioned in the diagram… I think it’s just fair to call them up and get their reaction,” Salvosa, who resigned after the story was published, said in an interview on ANC’s “Early Edition.”
He added: “We’re linking several names of some of the biggest names in journalism to a destabilization plot and for me, if you ask my opinion, the article was poorly sourced.”
VERA Files said the story was “deliberately manufactured to muddle the mind of the public with lies and endanger the lives of the persons named in that diagram.”
It added: “That it came from the highest official of the land who took his oath to preserve and defend the Constitution and ‘do justice to every man’ is most disturbing and must not be tolerated.”
The news organization added it is keeping its options open in seeking relief.
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