Sotto asks Inquirer to remove articles on Pepsi Paloma

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senate President Vicente Sotto III has asked online news site Inquirer.net to take down articles tagging him in the controversial rape case of sexy actress Pepsi Paloma in 1982.

In a letter dated May 29, 2018, Sotto wrote to Inquirer 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.

On Saturday, June 16, Rodis shared on Facebook a copy of Sotto's letter: 

 

Sotto also asked the Inquirer to take down a March 2016 news article on Sotto's denial that he used his political affiliation to influence the court decision on the rape case.

"I believe there was malicious imputation of a crime against me.... These kinds of unverified articles have been negatively affecting my reputation for the longest time," he wrote.    

"My efforts to clarify my side were somewhat ineffectual by reason of the above-cited articles were shared by your readers to the social media, and those readers who knew nothing about the issue took them as the version of truth considering that those reports came from a well-trusted company like Inquirer.net," Sotto added.

Sotto quickly added that his request does not "trample" on the news site's freedom of speech.

"Please note that I am making the appeal without the intention of trampling on your freedom of speech or of the press. In fact, I am with you in protecing those constitutionally enshrined rights when I filed a bill amending Republic Act No. 53," Sotto said.

RA 53 exempts the publisher, editor, or reporter of any news publication from revealing their sources for information obtained in confidence. In June 2016, Sotto filed Senate Bill Number 6, seeking to amend RA 53 to include online media in the law's coverage.

"Just like everyone, I am for the truth – a 'balanced news,' so to speak," Sotto said.

In a text message to Rappler, Sotto confirmed that he made the request to Inquirer. He also called the articles "libelous."

"I'd rather that they take it down than file charges in court," he added.

Dangerous precedent

In response, Rodis said Inquirer could set a "dangerous precedent" if it agrees to Sotto's request. 

"If the Inquirer agrees to his requests, a dangerous precedent will be set. Sotto is cyberbullying the Inquirer," Rodis said in his Facebook post.

Inquirer released a statement on Saturday, saying that it was Sotto's right to make such requests.

"Inquirer.net believes it is within [Senator] Sotto's right to make this request, citing particularly his claims that the articles contain unverified facts and baseless allegations. Also, to be fair with the senator, he has relayed this request to Inquirer.net much earlier through his staff.

Inquirer said that they have been receiving similar requests, citing "reasons ranging from inaccuracy to being publicly vilified." 

"We have acted on these requests judiciously and made decisions based on our own investigation and based on our journalistic values and principles. This is the reason why we've also asked Mr. Rodis to comment on the request," Inquirer added.

Inquirer said Rodis had sent his comment through email on Saturday. 

"But his act of posting this request on social media is his own decision. Inquirer.net has nothing to do with it," Inquirer said.

'Brazen attempt'

In a statement on Saturday, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) denounced Sotto's request to the Inquirer, saying it was a "brazen attempt to suppress freedom of the press and of expression."

"While we can understand the senator's discomfiture with these articles, we feel he is overstepping his bounds by zeroing in on the Inquirer.net articles," particularly Sotto's denial on whitewashing the Pepsi Paloma case, which NUJP said was a straight news report.

"We point out that all 3 articles Sotto wants taken down would not have been posted had they not gone through Inquirer.net's stringent vetting and editing," the group argued.

[STATEMENT] NUJP on SP Sotto’s ’request’ for @inquirerdotnet to takedown stories on Pepsi Paloma pic.twitter.com/wCUcdOYfPa — NUJP (@nujp) June 16, 2018

NUJP also asked why the Senate President didn't "raise hell when the articles were first uploaded in 2014? Or does he believe his status and authority as Senate President give him better chances of having the stories taken down?"

However, the NUJP also quizzed the Inquirer for bringing up Rodis' Facebook post in its reply to Sotto then washing its hands of it, "like it were something dishonest or devious."

While Inquirer has yet to make a decision on the matter, the NUJP urged the news outfit to "do right by asserting its independence and upholding freedom of the press and of expression, which are increasingly under siege today."

The request was Sotto's latest attempt in asking 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 does not take down a January 2016 opinion piece titled 'Magnanakaw' sa SenadoThe piece was about the P1-billion allocation for contraceptives that was removed from the national budget.

Rappler did not take down this piece. – with a report from Camille Elemia/Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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