SONA 2021

Duterte takes lies offline in SONA 2021

Vernise Tantuco
Duterte takes lies offline in SONA 2021

FINAL SONA. President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his speech during his last State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives on July 26, 2021.


During his last SONA, Duterte amplifies the narrative about ABS-CBN's supposed tax evasion

Even during his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 26, President Rodrigo Duterte continued to spread falsehoods about media giant ABS-CBN.

During the post-SONA panel, Rappler reporter Camille Elemia observed how Duterte mentioned ABS-CBN during his speech and said he had no problem with the network, but then went on to accuse it of taking his money.

Duterte then said, “They are cheating [the] government by the billions in taxes,” a claim that the Bureau of Internal Revenue said, during a Senate hearing, was false. Rumors about ABS-CBN’s taxes, which Rappler has fact-checked, have also circulated on social media. 

“And now he’s actually amplifying the lie with regard to the tax cases and ABS-CBN’s supposed tax evasion, and he just can’t let it go,” Elemia said.

“Even though, if you think about it, you [Duterte] already achieved your goal. He, himself, said that he wouldn’t approve ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal. And it already happened. Who would have imagined that the biggest Philippine broadcaster wouldn’t be on free TV, right?” 

On May 5, 2020, after at least nine bills filed with Congress seeking renewal of their franchise and a Senate hearing and resolution on their franchise renewal, the NTC issued a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN, resulting in its shutdown.

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Also at the post-SONA panel, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa said it’s because disinformation works. 

“This is emblematic of our information ecosystem today, the way he speaks, the way a lie is repeated a million times which then becomes a fact, the way the virus of lies in our information ecosystem infects real people – that’s a fact. And that’s part of the success of President Duterte – he’s exploited the information ecosystem for disinformation, Facebook,” said Ressa. 

Duterte won his 2016 campaign with help from social media personalities and bloggers and through organized social media messaging from supporters across the country.

He was the only candidate who showed up for Rappler’s #TheLeaderIWant forum in 2016, which was co-sponsored by Facebook. In 2019, Facebook identified Duterte’s election social media manager Nic Gabunada as the person behind the pro-Duterte fake account network which Facebook took down.

As Duterte’s term will soon come to a close, Ressa said she’s worried about the 2022 presidential elections in May. “I am not hopeful that if there is no legislation – if guardrails are not put around Silicon Valley social media platforms – that we will have integrity of elections,” she said. 

Tech platforms have promised to help secure the integrity of Philippine elections, but their plans are yet to be known and scrutinized. –

Vernise Tantuco

Vernise Tantuco is on Rappler's Research Team, fact checking suspicious claims, wrangling data, and telling stories that need to be heard.