VERA Files president suspects fact-checking landed her in ‘Oust Duterte’ matrix

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 9) — VERA Files President Ellen Tordesillas suspects that her news organization’s effort to fact-check President Rodrigo Duterte’s statements may have landed her in the alleged conspiracy against the chief executive.

Baka doon siya nagagalit kasi in our fact checking [Maybe our fact-checking angered him.] We track statements of people of influence, this includes government officials and we debunk them with factual evidence,” Tordesillas told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Thursday.

She said Duterte has a penchant for making unverified pronouncements, adding that VERA Files has monitored one speech where he supposedly said eight falsehoods.

In 2018, VERA Files reported that Duterte is their most fact-checked figure, accounting for 20 percent of their fact-checks.

The 11-year-old news organization said Duterte made a lot of false claims on his war against drugs, made different claims for different audiences and repeated false claims, sometimes in the same speech.

READ: Rappler tells Duterte: Fake news peddler from within Malacañang

“That’s worrisome ha kasi as President, he bases his policies on information that he has. So kung mali ‘yung information niya, dapat iko-correct natin. [So if his information is wrong, we should correct it,]” Tordesillas said.

VERA Files is one of three fact-checkers of Facebook in the Philippines, along with news website Rappler and international news wire Agence France Presse.

Malacañang has once complained of the social media giant's fact-checking partners in the country, saying that its partnership with "anti-administration" fact-checkers is "unacceptable."

VERA Files and Rappler, among other personalities, have landed on the headlines after Malacañang accused them of being involved in a plot to discredit Duterte. Both news organizations and its leaders have denied the claims, stressing that the Palace has not provided evidence to back up its allegations.

Malacañang has repeatedly said that it does not need to prove its own claims.

Aside from fact-checking, Tordesillas said she may have been included in the matrix because of VERA Files’ effort to prove that Duterte and his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, have joint deposits and investments in BPI.

“We demand accountability from those who are in power and we also try to promote accuracy in journalism. So these are things na [that] when you do these things, may matatamaan. [someone will be hit,]” Tordesillas said. “So kung matatamaan [if it hits] those who are in power, maybe that’s the reason why Malacañang is not so happy with the kind of reporting that we do. But that’s democracy. That’s the role of the media.”

No connection except to one Magdalo member

In a briefing at the Malacañang Palace on Wednesday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo tagged Tordesillas in the supposed plot to discredit Duterte over an opinion piece she wrote on the “Ang Totoong Narcolist” videos — a five-part video series where Duterte’s family and close allies were accused to be deep into the illegal drug trade.

But Tordesillas said she merely stated that she thought the videos were professionally done, but never vouched for the veracity of the claims in the videos.

She added that Panelo neglected to mention that she penned another opinion column in favor of Duterte after senatorial candidate and former Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go bared his back to debunk the allegation in the video that he has a tattoo indicating membership to a drug syndicate.

Doon pa lang, nawalan na ng credibility si Bikoy. [Just on that, Bikoy lost his credibility,]” Tordesillas said.

Bikoy is the hooded man in the Ang Totoong Narcolist videos. He has revealed himself to be Peter Joemel Advincula, who sought legal aid from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) to file charges against the supposed members of the syndicate. The IBP has denied him help.

READ: PNP uncovers more criminal charges vs man claiming to be 'Bikoy'

His surfacing at the IBP headquarters in Pasig City came after the arrest of Rodel Jayme, the self-confessed webmaster of Metrobalita, the website where the Ang Totoong Narcolist videos were first posted.

READ: DOJ files inciting to sedition raps vs Rodel Jayme

Tordesillas said she does not know Jayme. She added that she also does not know Cocoy Dayao and Bong Banal, both of whom are being linked to her.

She admitted, however, that she does know an Arman Pontejos, who was linked to her as a “business associate” in the matrix released by Malacañang.

“He’s an IT expert. He’s a member of the Magdalo. He helped me in my blog before,” Tordesillas said. She added that she no longer works with him as he is busy with his own company.

Tordesillas also laughed off her connection to former Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, saying that her friendship with the Aquino administration official turned sour after she began being critical to former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Exposing to danger

Halos lahat ng presidente akala nila trabaho ng media gawin silang pogi. Sinasabi namin, hindi ganun ang papel ng midya kasi you have Office of the Press Secretary to do that for you,” Tordesillas said.

[Translation: Almost all presidents think that media’s job is to make them look good. We say that that’s not media’s role because you have the Office of the Press Secretary to do that for you.]

While she belittled the matrix as "laughable," she said that she worries that Malacañang’s “irresponsible” exposé on the supposed plot against Duterte would expose those named to danger.

READ: PH falls in press freedom index

But despite this, she said she would not be silenced.

“Huy hindi mo kami makukuha sa ganun [Hey, you won’t get us through that.] If your purpose is to silence us, no it won’t do,” Tordesillas said.

READ: PH media groups call for courage in the face of ‘repression’

She said she is considering all legal options on the table to fight back the government’s charges against her, including filing for a writ of amparo which would grant her court protection.

READ: More groups run to SC for protection from state red-tagging

Duterte, meanwhile, said he would not press charges against those implicated in the alleged plot against him.