Manila Times columnist falls for fake news

Don Kevin Hapal

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Manila Times columnist falls for fake news
(UPDATED) Manila Times columnist Yen Makabenta's opinion piece used a quote from a fake news website, and it goes viral among pro-government supporters. The US embassy, however, denies Ambassador Nikki Haley made the remarks before the UN.

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Manila Times columnist Yen Makabenta on Saturday, September 23, earned the praise of online supporters of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for an opinion piece quoting United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hailey saying the president should be given “space to run his nation.”

Screenshot of Yen Makabenta's piece published on Manila Times website

Calling Haley a “superstar in the cabinet of Donald Trump,” Makabenta said that Haley “placed her voice squarely on the side of President Duterte and the Philippines.”

He then quoted the US ambassador, who he claimed, said the following to the UN General Assembly and international human rights organizations:

“The Philippines is suffocating. We must give President Duterte the space to run his nation. We must respect their independence … It is not in our purview to decide administrative issues for the Philippines…That is the job of the president.”

“Destructive forces have never given the Duterte administration enough space to jump-start his programs of government; they did not even afford him the proverbial honeymoon period…. Now, they have calibrated their plot to ouster movements and this is just the second year of his presidency.”

But there’s a problem: It’s fake.

US embassy press attaché Molly Koscina was reported as saying: “There has been reporting recently incorrectly quoting a speech that was never made.” Haley’s remarks, she said, are available on the US Mission to the UN website for reference.

The quote apparently came from a fake news website disguised as the website of Qatar-based media company Al Jazeera.

FAKE NEWS. The quote on Makabenta's article was based from a story on fake news website

Al Jazeera’s Philippine correspondent Jamela Aisha Alindogan, on a Facebook post, called a fake website and asked everyone “to be careful when sharing stuff online.”


Trolls are working overtime. Their intention is to discredit journalists and to fool the public,” she wrote.

Alindogan also posted about another fake news item from the same website with the headline, “Canada’s Prime Minister: Why is the world fighting Duterte instead of North Korea’s Kim?”

Other websites also shared the same fake quotes.

According to a January 2017 CNN report, during her confirmation hearing as Ambassador to the UN, Haley agreed that Duterte’s “sanctioned extrajudicial killings” violate basic human rights.

The official website of the United States Mission to the UN, where transcripts of the US ambassador’s speeches are regularly posted, show no record of Haley making such remarks to the UN General Assembly.

Viral fake quote

It didn’t take long for supporters of the President to spread the fake article and quote online.

Social media monitoring tool Crowdtangle showed that the fake news article has been shared by various pro-Duterte pages as early as Thursday, September 21.

Interaction represents the sum of reactions, comments, and shares on posts for pages and public profiles. 

Meanwhile, Makabenta’s column has been shared widely on various social media pages and accounts (including Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter) with 12,162,851 followers in total.

According to social media monitoring tool Crowdtangle, Makabenta's article has been posted by these public pages and twitter accounts.

Crowdtangle data shows many pro-Duterte pages shared the article, including two of the President’s staunchest supporters online, Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson and Sass Rogando Sasot. 

The posts on their pages, however, have already been deleted as of writing.

The official page of  DILG Undersecretary for Legislative Liaison and Special Concerns Emily O. Padilla also emphasized the fake quote, citing Makabenta’s piece, in a Facebook post that has already been shared more than 6,000 times. 

The official Facebook page of DILG Usec Emily Padilla emphasized the fake quote in a viral post.

The Duterte administration has been facing allegations of spreading fake news.

During the Senate hearing on the proposed budget of the Presidential Communications Operations Office for 2018, senators raised this issue against Uson.

“How can you, Secretary Andanar, fight fake news kung may instances na nanggagaling mismo sa isang Asec yung fake news? So I guess yun yung nagiging dilemma mo, how would you balance things?” Senator Nancy Binay told PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar.

{How can you, Secretary Andanar, fight fake news if there are instances where the Asec [Assistant Secretary] is the one spreading fake news? So I guess that’s your dilemma, how would you balance things?)

This comes after the PCOO on Wednesday, September 20, said it will conduct a media literacy program in the provinces to combat fake news. 

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Friday, September 22, also filed administrative and criminal complaints against Uson for spreading “fake news” that he owned offshore bank accounts and for other alleged unlawful acts committed by the official.– 

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Don Kevin Hapal

Don Kevin Hapal is Rappler’s Head of Data and Innovation. He started at Rappler as a digital communications specialist, then went on to lead Rappler’s Balikbayan section for overseas Filipinos. He was introduced to data journalism while writing and researching about social media, disinformation, and propaganda.