MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senate President Vicente Sotto III said online news site Inquirer.net will take down articles insinuating that he whitewashed the rape case of the late actress Pepsi Paloma in 1982.
Sotto said this in a chance interview with reporters on Monday, June 18.
"They will [take it down]... because it's fake news. It's [the] original fake news," the Senate president said when asked if he would pursue libel charges against Inquirer.net if it refuses to remove the articles.
But asked for clarification shortly after, Sotto said: "Just wait for them (Inquirer.net) to issue a statement [on] whether they will take down that fake news or not."
In a letter dated May 29, 2018, Sotto wrote to Inquirer Interactive president Paolo Prieto asking them to remove "The rape of Pepsi Paloma" and "Was Pepsi Paloma murdered?" – both written by United States-based columnist Rodel Rodis and published in March 2014.
Sotto also asked Inquirer.net to take down a March 2016 news article on his denial that he used his political affiliation to influence the court decision on the rape case.
He earlier told Rappler that he wants Inquirer.net to "take it down [rather] than file charges in court."
When he was told that others view his request as a violation of the freedom of the press, Sotto said: "Ibig mo bang sabihin kapag sinabi kong 'yung mga taong naninira, binabayaran, freedom of the press din 'yun? Hindi. Original fake news."
(Do you mean when I say those people are being paid to destroy me, they're still covered by freedom of the press? No. That's the original fake news.)
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) had called Sotto's request a "brazen attempt to suppress freedom of the press and of expression."
But Sotto denied this.
"'Di nila alam ang story. Kausapin nila Inquirer," he said. (They don't know the whole story. They should talk to the Inquirer.)
"Huwag 'nyo nang palakihin, pinalalaki 'nyo," he added. (Don't blow it out of proportion.)
The request was Sotto's latest attempt to ask news sites to take down articles critical of him.
In February 2016, Sotto threatened to sue Rappler and columnist Sylvia Claudio if the news site would not take down a January 2016 opinion piece titled "'Magnanakaw' sa Senado." The piece was about the P1-billion allocation for contraceptives that was removed from the national budget. Rappler did not take down this piece. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org