BIGGER NETWORK Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Wednesday explains a diagram showing individuals and groups allegedly involved in a wider conspiracy to discredit the Duterte administration. —JOAN BONDOC
MANILA, Philippines — Opposition leaders and critics of President Rodrigo Duterte denounced on Wednesday new allegations by Malacañang that they were involved in a wider conspiracy to discredit the administration to push the candidacies of the opposition senatorial slate.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the alleged conspirators, who supposedly included Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano and allies of the Liberal Party (LP), were linked to the release of videos on the supposed involvement of members of the Duterte family and their associates in the illegal drug trade.
"This is the nth time that the administration, when confronted with controversy, falsely accuses the LP of being involved in ouster plots," said Sen. Francis Pangilinan, LP president.
"They are just making this up to divert the issues against the administration and its allies. What they should explain is why no drug lord has been arrested and no customs official has been charged despite the repeated smuggling of illegal drugs in the (Bureau of Customs)," Pangilinan said in a statement.
Panelo told reporters in Malacañang that the President directed him to make public a new web-like diagram that was much wider than what he had shown and called an "oust-Duterte matrix" last month that linked a lawyers' group and journalists to what has been called the "Bikoy" videos, which was named after the hooded man who made the charges against the Dutertes.
National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), the online news outfit Rappler, fact-checker Vera Files and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), which were named in the first matrix, have vehemently denied any involvement in the alleged plot and the videos.
The new diagram Malacañang released on Wednesday added several personalities known in public and on social media as critical of the Duterte administration and its policies.
It named Ellen Tordesillas of Vera Files and others mentioned in the first "matrix;" Peter Joenel Advincula, who came out publicly on Monday and identified himself as "Bikoy" in the "real narcolist" videos; and Rodel Jayme, who put up the website metrobalita.net which released the first of the five videos.
"The Office of the President, the President himself, has received information, intelligence information that has been validated and appears to show that there is a deliberate attempt to discredit this administration, as well as to boost the candidacies of the opposition's senatorial candidates and it appears that there are certain groups who are working together to achieve this goal," Panelo said.
As proof of the conspiracy, he cited the use by several persons mentioned in the new drawing of a common office address in a condominium unit, which was too small to host several operations; statements or articles commending the Bikoy videos; a tweet praising Alejano; and membership in Facebook groups identified with the LP.
ANOTHER WEB Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo (right) and Communications Secretary Martin Andanar hold up one of several diagrams showing a bigger web of people allegedly involved in a conspiracy to discredit the Duterte administration. —JOAN BONDOC
Video 'narrator' named
Panelo identified the narrator in the videos as Bong Banal, whom he alleged was either an administrator or a member of anti-Duterte and "LP-leaning" Facebook groups and had initiated protests against the ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno as Chief Justice.
In a Facebook post, Banal accused Malacanang of spreading fake news and chided it for falling for a bum steer despite its massive intelligence budget.
"For the record, I am not the narrator of the Bikoy video," he said. "Atty. Panelo, with your massive intel budget, how did you fall for such blatantly wrong info?"
Tordesillas also denied Panelo's claim, saying he should "present evidence, not just silly diagrams." Panelo had cited the journalist's article on the ABS-CBN website where she said the Bikoy video looked professionally done.
The presidential spokesperson said the bigger diagram showed that the LP, Magdalo and other groups were "working hand-in-hand."
Alejano rejected Panelo's claim, saying the opposition did not have to do anything to discredit or destabilize the administration. "They are the ones who are destroying themselves," he said.
"I categorically state that I am not involved on the Bikoy videos and (have) not conspired with anybody to produce such videos. I do not know Bikoy and have not met him ever," he said.
Alejano, a senatorial candidate of the opposition Otso Diretso slate, noted Malacañang's "long history of of releasing unvalidated information to the public."
"This is an abuse of power without being held liable for the consequences of their irresponsible actions and incompetence," he said.
The NUPL has said it would file legal actions against administration officials, saying their accusations amounted to the suppression of the freedom of speech and of expression and could trigger physical attacks against its members.
No laughing matter
"This is not a laughing matter because there are serious implications to the security, liberty and even the life of those named in the matrix," NUPL secretary general Ephraim Cortez said at a forum on Tuesday, referring to last month's diagram.
The groups and individuals named in the diagram are protected by the constitutional provisions of the freedom of the press and free expression "in accordance with democratic principles and norms, and cannot be curtailed without violating constitutional and legal principles," he said.
He noted that the National Bureau of Investigation was quick to investigate the Bikoy videos but not the allegations against the President's family and associates.
Cortez said the Duterte administration's moves were similar to what was found in 2008 by Philip Alston, former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings—that public vilification of state "enemies" placed them in the police and the military "order of battle."
This kind of vilification, Cortez said, could be a "prelude to an attack" to make an impression in the public mind that certain groups critical of the government would commit illegal acts designed to oust Duterte administration.
Advincula is not Bikoy
Panelo sought to discredit Advincula, saying his appearance was intended divert attention from Jayme, who told the NBI he was paid by a woman known to be a supporter of the LP.
He also said Advincula was not the Bikoy in the video based on a voice analysis. The hooded Bikoy had an Ilocano accent, while Advincula had a Bicolano accent, he said.
Asked how Advincula could be linked to the LP when he had also reportedly tried to link former President Benigno Aquino III to the drug trade a few years back, the palace spokesperson said there could have been "rebels" within their group.
Jayme also was affiliated with the LP, Panelo said.
Jayme supposedly had constant online collaboration with journalist Inday Varona, Gara Trillanes, and Otso Diretso candidates Florin Hilbay and Gary Alejano, he said.
According to him, Precious Sahara Ledesma, allegedly the administrator of the Freedom Wall PH Facebook page and an LP and Otso Diretso supporter was the woman identified as Maru Nguyen, Maru Xie, and Maria Kristina Elvira who had approached Jayme to create the Metro Balita page.
Another individual shown in the diagram, Filmore Rule, is a member of Samahang Magdalo and a security officer of Trillanes, who took care of Jayme's safety after the narcolist videos came out, Panelo said.
He identified the person who allegedly uploaded videos of former police officer Eduardo Acierto, as Jerry May Maghinay, the supposed owner of the nowyouknow.ph website.
Yellow Ribbon Movement
Acierto claimed he had submitted a report to Malacanang linking two Chinese nationals close to the President to the drug trade, but nothing came of it.
The new matrix links Maghinay to the Yellow Ribbon Movement said to be chaired by Sen. Bam Aquino with Trillanes and senatorial candidate Mar Roxas as among its members.
Trillanes, one of the President's staunchest critics, dimissed Malacanang's attempt to link him and the Magdalo group to the supposed plot.
"It's Duterte himself who ordered the killings of thousands of Filipinos, kept billions of pesos in ill-gotten wealth, has been destroying democratic institutions, cursed God and invented accusations against his critics, yet we are the ones discrediting him?" Trillanes said. —WITH A REPORT FROM MARIEJO S. RAMOS
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