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Inquirer’s brazen hatchet job vs Binay, a disgrace to journalism

It is astonishing how President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd could use the Philippine Daily Inquirer, one of the biggest broadsheets, to undertake such a brazen demolition job, the likes of which have never before been seen in local journalism, against a presidential candidate, Vice President Jejomar Binay.

The published canard – the claim that the candidate got “billions” from infrastructure projects – is being disseminated two months before elections, when such allegations would be so difficult to debunk at the same speed as it was spread.

I have never seen such a ruthless, and very obvious hatchet job against a political figure during an electoral cycle. Even Marcos’ three newspapers during the dictatorship (The Daily Express, Manila Bulletin, and the Journal) never undertook a vicious vilification campaign against candidate Corazon Aquino in the months before the February 7, 1986 presidential elections.

PDI’s late editor-in-chief Letty Magsanoc, one of the most distinguished journalists of our time who made the newspaper her life’s work, must be turning in her grave at the viciousness and crudeness of this demolition job.

There is one indisputable fact that proves it is a demolition job: The allegation had been made a year ago, yet again today is claimed as something new, for no other reason but obviously to throw dirt at the target candidate during this crucial time.

The PDI’s screaming banner headline on March 15, 2016, “AMLC: Binay got billions.” The author Nancy Carvajal, however, noted that it wasn’t a recently made report, but that the “AMLC (Anti-Money Laundering Council) finding was contained in a report that was the result of an investigation ordered by the Office of the Ombudsman in November 2014.(Emphasis supplied).

PDI’s two banner stories last year and this week: Same allegations using the same single document nobody else has. What for, if not as a demolition job against a presidential candidate? (Name blocked as we don’t want to disseminate the lie, even on a subliminal level.)
PDI’s two banner stories last year and this week: Same allegations using the same single document nobody else has. What for, if not as a demolition job against a presidential candidate? (Name blocked as we don’t want to disseminate the lie, even on a subliminal level.)

Carvajal, however, in her article pointed out that “a copy (of the AMLC report) was obtained by the Inquirer [i.e., by her] on Monday (March 14),” or just before its publication.

She is lying. Or is she referring to a “feed” given to her that Monday written by somebody else, who cited the same document but which she forgot she already used a year ago?

Indeed, she had claimed she got the “AMLC Report” nearly a year ago, which was the basis of her May 14, 2015 article, the headline of which wasn’t so different: “AMLC: Binay, allies deposits reach P11 billion.”

An old 2014 report

It was the same AMLC report submitted to the Ombudsman sometime in the late 2014, which even Carvajal herself noted in her 2015 article: “The report was part of the AMLC petition to the court to freeze 242 bank accounts … of Binay, his family and his suspected dummies, which was granted on Monday (May 11, 2015) ex parte, or without hearing.” The article came out May 14, 2015, only two days after the Court issued the freeze order.

Carvajal, author of the articles vs Binay since last year; PDI’s new Executive Editor Jose Nolasco, and its president, Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez.
Carvajal, author of the articles vs Binay since last year; PDI’s new Executive Editor Jose Nolasco, and its president, Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez.

Binay’s spokesmen, however, have explained that in the course of the hearings at the Court of Appeals, the AMLC has gone on record to correct its initial report, and declared that Binay has only P1.7 million and not “billions” and that he had only one bank account and not 159 accounts as it initially alleged.

I doubt very much the AMLC’s “initial” reports, and even the motivation for these, which it conveniently corrects later on. One case is that which was reported during Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial in 2012, that he had $10 billion in bank deposits. A study of the report – which the AMLC later made public – showed he only had $1.2 million, but the AMLC stupidly added all his transactions so that a $100 deposit, for instance, after being withdrawn and deposited again, was reported as a $200 balance.

Here is the problem that makes Ms. Carvajal’s demolition job so unfair and highly immoral, and journalistically unethical:

Only three individuals have copies of the alleged AMLC report, other than the agency – the Ombudsman, the head of the Court of Appeals, and — at least according to her — Carvajal. Despite the damage done to Binay’s reputation, neither Carvajal nor the AMLC, nor the Ombdusman, has made the alleged report public.

This is because these agencies invoke the Anti-Money Laundering Law’s provisions that the AMLC’s reports are strictly confidential. Not even the accused – the Binays – have been furnished a copy despite their lawyers’ pleas to the Court for it so they could respond properly to the allegations made against them.

There hasn’t been a counterpart, really, of the AMLC document in Philippine journalism: It is the only source of Carvajal’s serious allegations against the Vice President, yet no other newspaper could validate it, as they could not secure a copy of it. I wonder if even the PDI’s editors have seen it, which they should have, to properly evaluate the validity of Carvajal’s article.

In fact, the breach of confidentiality – which Carvajal made in reporting the AMLC’s alleged report – is a crime, punishable by three to eight years in prison under the AML Act of 2001 (Sec. 14 d).

This should have alerted PDI’s editors of its malicious intent. Who would have leaked the AMLC report to Carvajal if not the party with enough power to get it from the three agencies that held copies of it: The President’s operators. And why would they leak it if not to weaken Binay’s chances in the May elections? Why would Carvajal risk her neck by violating the AML law at this crucial time of the electoral cycle?

Tetangco’s refusal

Quite unfortunately, AMLC Chairman Amando Tetangco, who is also the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor – whether he is so afraid of Aquino or not – has refused to reply to my question, sent to him last year and the other day through his official PR men, whether he did sign or did not sign the alleged AMLC report, and if he would confirm its contents as claimed by Carvajal.

That is how deep the corruption of this country’s moral fiber has become, with even such an upright person as Tetangco refusing to correct falsehoods damaging to a candidate, spread through one newspaper. That very well fits the famous aphorism made by the Irish statesman Edmund Burke long ago: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

The AMLC document Carvajal has been citing is a black propagandist’s dream document. Such a study apparently exists but it hasn’t been, and won’t be made publicly available ever. The propagandist, or Carvajal, can claim this or that is stated in the document, but nobody else is able to confirm if such claims are really in the report. She could have reported that the document said Binay had Swiss bank accounts, and we would have no way of validating if the document, indeed, said so.

The hand of a skilled propagandist is so obvious in Carvajal’s reports, which are replete with details of figures supposedly transacted in order to make it appear the document is authentic.

In my career, I have reported a number of confidential reports, from very secret IMF-World Bank documents in the 1980s to a more recent BSP study on “conglomerate maps.” I have always published an image of its first pages as proof that it is a genuine document I am citing. Carvajal has never done so in the case of her AMLC document.

That Carvajal, obviously with the imprimatur of the Inquirer’s editors, is carrying out a vicious demolition job that has the fingerprints of a PR man all over it. This has become so obvious in her banner story yesterday, again similarly headlined: “Binay sent P100M to HK via Philrem.” I nearly fell off my seat reading the newspaper, as the report is as insidious as it is ruthless, or hilarious, really.

The headline news in the past days has been about the hijacking of the Bangladesh central bank’s funds by a global syndicate and the partial success to money-launder $81 million of it through the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC). A remittance company, PhilRem, was reported to have handled the physical delivery of cold cash to the criminal group’s Chinese operative here.

Voilà, the black propagandists versus Binay obviously thought: Link the burning issue of the $81 million money-laundering attempt to Binay, especially since no other newspaper dared follow up Carvajal’s story the other day, and it was fizzling out. After all, the AMLC is mentioned in both stories.

This latest attempt really, is so ridiculous, a desperate attempt to extend the mileage of the Binay-got-billions canard. That journalistic ethics were thrown to the dustbin is obvious in its headline, that “Binay sent P100 M…” Yet the article itself reported it wasn’t Binay but a law firm, one of the many with whom the Vice President, a lawyer himself, has been friends. The law firm itself has vehemently denied the allegation.

Denials read only by few

Newspapers are a public trust, because of its awesome power. One of these hidden powers is the fact that denials of a false report are read only by a tiny fraction of readers, so that much more people would continue to believe the lie rather than its refutation. We can even quantify this in this age of the internet. Carvajal’s recent banner story (“AMLC: Binay got billions”) was “shared” 54,000 times; the Binay camp denials by only 3,000. Carvajal’s banner article on the same allegations last year (“AMLC: Binay, allies deposits reach P11B”), was shared 43,000 times; the Binay camp’s denial, 2,800 shares.

The Inquirer, of course, duly published the denials of Binay’s camp. But every report of the denial, the allegations, the lies made in Carvajal’s articles are repeated,  even lengthier than the denials. The black propagandist must be rolling over in laughter.

Why has Carvajal been intent on such hatchet jobs against Binay, even in articles that would risk her journalistic integrity?

What has happened to our country that a broadsheet, which emerged out of the EDSA I revolution with the noble purpose of championing the truth with “Balanced News, Fearless Views,” has become the tool of this Administration, disseminating lies to fool the nation, so that the democratic aim of the May elections are subverted?

What has happened to the ostensibly idealist editors of the Inquirer that they have allowed such a crude hatchet job, very easily verified as such, to be published? Why is it that only the Inquirer – and not even the most mercenary tabloids – has published such kind of a hatchet job?

This case could be the litmus test of leadership for PDI’s new boss, Executive Editor Jose Nolasco, in his youth an idealistic activist, whether he can carry the late Magsanoc’s mantle of journalistic integrity. I worked for a year at the Inquirer in 2000 as a columnist and as editor-in-chief of its website (when it was still a joint venture with GMA7) and then again as a columnist from 2010 to 2012.  I’m sure its president, Sandy Prieto-Romualdez, realizes the seriousness of the dent on her newspaper’s integrity,  that she would get to the bottom of it, whether Carvajal’s articles are legitimate news or an outright demolition job. It is so crude as to be obviously one, if one objectively looks at the facts.  An editorial “forensic” — how Carvajal’s piece entered the newsroom, approved by the editors,  and processed —  could really be done in a few hours’ time, given the paper’s tight monitoring systems.   They may have underestimated Mrs. Prieto-Romualdez’s intelligence.

I am angry over such blatant exploitation of the Press since it is a deep insult to the profession I am in. It eats into the very foundations of the Fourth Estate. Especially after Aquino has put under his control the other two branches of government, the Judiciary and Congress, and with broadcast media having deteriorated into entertainment media, the Press has practically become the sole champion of democracy and truth. What we write every day may seem ephemeral, but these echo to eternity, to use the classic line in one of my favorite movies.