Human rights law group calls Oust Duterte plot ‘rubbish'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Human rights law group National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) on Monday, April 22, called “putrid rubbish” the supposed “Oust Duterte plot” published by the Manila Times on its front page and subsequently backed by Malacañang.

Written by the newspaper’s chairman emeritus Dante Ang, who is also Duterte’s current special envoy for international public relations, the article published Monday cited a source from the Office of the President (OP) as possessing a matrix linking NUPL to media groups like Rappler, Vera Files, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) in a supposed plot to oust the president.

“This has certainly gone over the walls of credulity. It is absolutely false, totally baseless and completely ludicrous. It is only a bait to engage in absurd and endless tit for tat to distract us,” the NUPL said in a statement.

The NUPL said it would continue to speak out against the Duterte administration’s policies like killings in the drug war, and the tax reform law.

“First they came for the activists, then the indigenous people, then the peace consultants, religious, farmers, opposition, then the media, and now the lawyers. Who’s next? We will not blink nor look the other way. We are unfazed even as we are disturbed. In the ultimate analysis, who really is running scared here?” the NUPL said.

Duterte is the source

In a press conference in Malacañang on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo confirmed that the source of the matrix was “the President himself.”

“The source of that is the Office of the President, from the President himself. I don’t know how (Dante Ang) got one, but it’s coming from the President, I talked to him the other day,” Panelo said.

In a speech in Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte, Sunday, April 21, Duterte said that he received “intel” on the said media groups from “one of our allied countries.”

“I have been informed of all of their stories, but the information did not come from our intelligence group. It was given, I believe, by one of our allied countries. But I think you already know who,” Duterte said in Visayan.

Duterte added: “Is it Monday tomorrow? It will be released. I will release it. I don’t know where the information came from. It just reached my table. But based on how it was written, I know it’s not from a Filipino. We just revised and translated it. It wasn’t written in our language.”

Panelo could not expound on the source-country of the matrix, or the vetting process it went through. “Kung ano ang nakalagay sa Manila Times, mas klaro (The Manila Times put it more clearly),” said Panelo.

‘Not an investigative report’

In a statement on Monday, Rappler said the Manila Times’ story “is an example of how not to write an investigative report – not even everyday straight news.”

“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,” Rappler said.

Ellen Tordesillas, president of Vera Files which was also implicated in the story, said "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," she added.

Another group mentioned in the story, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) described it as "dangerous as it lays the ground for more attacks against independent media."

The NUJP said it feared "that this 'revelation' could be a prelude to a crackdown against independent media and human rights lawyers."

"Ang’s story is such a marvel of unethical and amateurish writing. Based on a single anonymous source and a matrix showing a web of threads so tenuous it would not hold up in the slightest breeze, Ang’s piece of claptrap wouldn’t even pass muster at any self-respecting high school publication," the NUJP added.

The NUPL raised concerns about the article’s implications on the safety of lawyers and journalists tagged in the matrix.

“It would have been amusing were it not perilous to the safety, security, and liberty, if not the lives,  of each of the 500 or so lawyers, law students, law professors, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, government lawyers, and paralegals who are members of the NUPL in more than 20 chapters nationwide,” the NUPL said.

Pressed by Malacañang reporters whether the matrix meant that journalists and lawyers were surveilled by a foreign country, Panelo could only flatly deny, but without a solid explanation.

“Hindi naman, basta ang alam ko standard naman ang intelligence-sharing (Not really, all I know is that intelligence-sharing is standard,” Panelo said.

Panelo said that so far, the matrix does not show “overt acts” by the journalists and lawyers implicated in the matrix to topple the government. Panelo added there is no sufficient evidence yet to charge the lawyers and journalists in the matrix.  – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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