THE PRESIDENTIAL Communications Operations Office, or Malacañang for that matter, may want to tread lightly when it mounts higher ground to pontificate to private media about the evils of disinformation.
With all due respect to Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, we remind our counterparts in government that in this imperfect media village nobody has a monopoly of truth – or lies – in mass communication.
Under pressure of deadline and other constraints, we all make mistakes (which we correct on the first opportunity). But it is an entirely different situation when communicators – whether in private or public media – deliberately and maliciously package and propagate lies.
Secretary Andanar has waded into murky waters stirred by Malacañang’s release of a “matrix” linking some journalists and media groups to an alleged plot to oust President Duterte by sharing materials mentioning the President in connection with drug payoffs and unexplained wealth.
Implicated were journalist Ellen Tordesillas of Vera Files, the media outfits Rappler and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, as well as the National Union of People’s Lawyers, who were accused of spreading or using the online exposes of “Bikoy,” identified as a former insider in a narcotics syndicate.
“Bikoy” claimed that Duterte and some family members and associates have amassed huge sums from the illicit drug trade, depositing the payoffs in secret bank accounts that the whistle-blower listed.
Government agencies have vowed to unmask “Bikoy.” But we did not notice as much alacrity in their tracing the alleged bank accounts where the payoffs from the drug lords, if true, had been hidden.
Explaining the matrix, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said “Bikoy” sent his video-recorded exposes to Tordesillas, who allegedly passed them on to others named in the chart.
As for the PCIJ report that aroused questions on the amassed wealth of Duterte family members in government, we see it as laudable investigative reporting based on the officials’ Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALNs). If we had the time and resources, we would have written a similar report.
We think Andanar should have left the job of defending the oust-Duterte matrix to Panelo, who officially disclosed it to media, and to a public relations “ambassador” who first reported it in his newspaper.
• PCOO is no model of honest reporting
WE hesitate to accept the matrix as a diagram of a plot as claimed by Panelo, because he offered no evidence of falsity and criminal complicity. He just said that the report must be true, because it came from the President who, he added, got it from a foreign intelligence feed.
It seems that personalities who have received and shared copies of the “Bikoy” exposes and the SALNs are being accused of an unspecified crime. Is it now a crime under the Duterte regime to retweet, forward or share information in social media without first validating it?
Andanar amplified the dark scenario, connecting the alleged plot to the May elections. He said on radio: “If we allow fake news or disinformation to win, we are actually allowing ourselves to be cheated by way of an election that is not clean and not fair, which destroys basically the democratic process of electing a person.”
One problem is that the PCOO itself is not exactly an honest purveyor of information. On not a few occasions, responsible officers under Andanar had been caught manufacturing false information and passing it off as truthful reportage.
Andanar’s remark about election cheating through disinformation reminds us of a similar warning of his former assistant secretary, whose sphere of influence supposedly includes Overseas Filipino Workers, that fraud might alter the results of the ongoing voting abroad.
That they are humming the same tune is uncanny. The administration claims to be in control, so how come Andanar and his former assistant are talking of Duterte’s candidates possibly losing through disinformation and fraud?
Do they have surveys and studies showing a worrisome erosion of the President’s following? Is somebody laying the basis for a possible challenge to an anticipated reversal at the polls in OFW and other areas?
• Journos named in matrix give side
OTHER journalists and media groups whose names were included in the matrix gave their side.
*Inday Espina-Varona, who was in the matrix as a National Union of People’s Lawyers member, said: “My former employer just promoted this University of the Philippines dropout to lawyer. Journalist to lawyer. Just on those glaring errors of fact, that article fails big time.
“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.”
*Luz Rimban, a founding trustee of Vera Files, said she left the group in 2018 and has been focused on her duties at Ateneo de Manila University.
*Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism said: “We have no stories on “Bikoy” videos. We did not receive any email from Tordesillas sharing the link for the “Bikoy” videos. We had not posted any story or commentary on them. The five (PCIJ) persons named in the matrix are not with us.
“The PCIJ is a non-stock, non-profit media organization that receives funding through video and publication revenues, contributions from patrons, interest income from an endowment fund from Ford Foundation and grants and projects from local and foreign sources.
“Foreign funding is not equivalent to foreign ownership of for-profit media. 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.
“For instance, 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; brought to China a number of journalists and columnists, including those from The Manila Times, via a ‘professional exchange program’; started to re-broadcast China programs in Manila; and sent PCOO personnel to learn the Chinese language.”