‘This is a product of a wild and active imagination. It’s adding a plus-plus when there’s nothing there,’ says policy expert Tony La Viña
The buzz started among bloggers known to be pro-Duterte, and gained traction when no less than the Palace communications secretary picked it up for his podcast: Vice President Leni Robredo is supposedly conniving with United States-based groups to oust the President.
The basis of their allegation: parts of an email thread on Yahoo! Groups that one blogger was alerted about, and which another blogger was able to preserve through an archiving service. (The original thread could no longer be accessed online.) Neither Robredo nor any of her staff was part of the thread.
Robredo, therefore, should be charged with sedition for plotting against President Rodrigo Duterte, an anonymous blogger suggested. She’s even liable for graft, the blogger added, for supposedly using government money to do so.
So how solid is this #LeniLeaks, as they call it?
It doesn’t hold water, if based only on the “leaked” information.
The available info
Based on the screen shots of the archives taken by blogger 2:
- The Yahoo! Group of the Global Filipino Diaspora Council (GFDC) showed that on December 4, 2016, its most prominent member, Fil-Am philanthropist Loida Nicolas-Lewis, was corresponding with a certain Cornelio R. Natividad about a plan to help Robredo’s legal defense in the electoral protest filed against her by former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
- On January 4, 2017, Lewis’ sister Imelda Nicolas, also influential among Fil-am groups, shared with the group a private Facebook message sent to her by a certain Pete Silva. The text said, “FROM OVP SOCMED” (or from the Office of the Vice President’s Social Media Team), and detailed what seemed to be the OVP’s communications strategy to counter criticism that Robredo was in the US when Typhoon Nina hit her home region on Christmas Day.
- The strategy includes diverting public attention to former Senator Marcos by name calling his son Sandro and reviving the Oxford University controversy. (READ: Did Bongbong Marcos lie about Oxford, Wharton?)
- Another part of the message compared Robredo’s visit to Bicol after the typhoon with Duterte’s: “Compare the Duterte and the Robredo visit in Bicol. Digong just gave a speech for the ‘ceremonial giving of donations.’ He did not go to the far-flung areas to know their concerns. He never interacted with his constituents. He went there with the media only because he needs to be seen there. VP Leni, on the other hand, visited far-flung areas and met with the people. She is on ground zero.”
Based on these, they speculated: Lewis supported Duterte’s rival Mar Roxas and running mate Robredo in the 2016 election, and had publicly called for the President’s resignation after that. There was a message, supposedly from a unit from the OVP. Robredo was in the US during the holidays, according to news reports. Therefore, they said, she probably met with Lewis to discuss the plot to unseat Duterte.
Loopholes in the ‘leak’
1. There’s a call for Duterte’s resignation, but not a move for his ouster. The email thread shows Lewis saying; “”The only way to fight this evil plot to unseat VP is to ask Duterte to resign. After all, he promised to resign in six months if he has not solved the drug epidemic in the Philippines. He asked for an extension of another six months. Extension denied! Join Duterte Resign Movement.”
In an email to Rappler on Monday, January 9, Lewis confirmed that there is indeed a Resign Duterte Movement. It is “based on President Duterte’s own words that he would resign if drugs are still rampant 6 month after his inauguration,” she said.
She did not categorically confirm that the retrieved messages are authentic (the email thread was posted on a public Yahoo! Groups page), but said there is a public site for the Global Filipino Diaspora Council, and plots, if ever there’s one, are not discussed in public sites. She said there is no plot to oust the President.
Legal and policy expert Tony La Viña makes the distinction: “Sedition is a call for an illegal act. There was no illegal act being called. To call for the President’s resignation is a free political exercise.”
Robredo herself said on Saturday, January 7, that she is against any move to oust the duly elected Chief Executive. “Ito pong oust Duterte, siguradong hindi ako kasali kung mayroon mang ganyang plano…. Naniniwala po ako na hindi makakabuti sa bansa natin na gumawa na naman tayo ng oust-the-President movement.”
2. Robredo and Lewis deny meeting in the US over the holidays. Lewis, who is based in New York, said in an email to Rappler, “I did not know she was in the US until she had already left.” Robredo was with her kids in Pennsylvania for a clan reunion.
In a chance interview on Monday, January 9, Robredo said the last time she spoke to Lewis was during her vice presidential campaign in the first half of 2016. Also a Bicolana, Lewis supported Leni’s congressional campaign in Camarines Sur in 2013.
3. So far, there is no connection established between the Pete Silva who forwarded the message from the supposed OVP social media group and Robredo’s office or Robredo’s campaign.
If ever the list of media strategies was authentic, La Viña said, “I don’t see anything there that is outside normal. Every politician will have his own communications strategy.”
La Viña added: “This is a product of a wild and active imagination. It’s adding a plus plus when there’s nothing there. [if somebody files a case], it would not even pass the secretary of justice.”
True enough, on Monday, the justice secretary – President Duterte’s appointee – said the speculations are not worth probing. At least 3 Cabinet members also said they had more important matters to take up in Malacañang than this “destabilization” plot that Secretary Andanar wanted on the agenda. – Lian Buan/Rappler.com