Says not covered by FOI order
VICE President Maria Leonor Robredo refuses to confirm or deny persistent reports, especially in numerous Facebook posts, that she has since 2016 been having a romantic relationship with the representative of Quezon City’s third district, Jorge (“Bolet”) Banal, a married man. “It’s common knowledge in the third district,“ a well-known former politician from the area claims, “and the relationship started in the 2016 election campaign.”:
Representative Banal likewise refused comment on the reports, according to our reporter who asked him on this. This paper’s reporter claimed that Robredo dismissed the report as gossip, but only as an off-the-record claim.
In media convention, or simply out of sheer rationality, a refusal to confirm or deny a report is interpreted as a confirmation, unless it is preposterously baseless, or is predicated on a falsehood.
Her refusal to comment can only bolster the allegations of her relationship with Banal. If true, he would arguably be—if President Duterte were to step down before his term expired in 2022— the most powerful man in the country, as he would be the last person Robredo would talk to at the end of each day. We do have the right to that information, don’t we?
Robredo’s adamant refusal to confirm or deny the reports is baffling. This column would not have existed at all if she simply responded: “No, I am not having, and never ever had, a romantic relationship with congressman Banal or any other man.”
Email April 27
I officially asked her to comment on the allegation in two emails on April 24 and 27 to her office, the latter of which reads:
“Dear Madame Vice President,
I abhor fake news as much as you also seem to be, based on your recent tweet. Sadly, I continue to get Facebook posts alleging your affair with Congressman Jorge (“Bolet”) Banal. If these are fake news, I would like to expose these as such.
However, I haven’t received any such denial from you nor from Congressman Banal, for me to write that this is fake news.
I hope you can deny it as soon as possible so I can bury this issue finally and request FB fact-checkers to delete such falsehoods.”
Instead of replying though, she lashed out at me in a tweet, claiming that I was a “purveyor of fake news” and “had threatened her with another fake news.” She didn’t even mention, though, what exactly was the “fake news” I “threatened her” with.
On May 11, though, I received an email from firstname.lastname@example.org by “FOI Receiving Officer,” acknowledging receipt of my two emails, and asking me to pick up that office’s reply in its Quezon City office. I suspect Robredo’s lawyers were just being careful for her not to be accused of violating Republic Act 6713, which requires officials to reply within 15 working days of receipt of a query.
I requested the “FOI Receiving Officer” to send me that reply by email, but my request got no response.
After two hours of waiting on a very hot day for the “FOI Receiving Officer” who came back from lunch only at 3 p.m., I got the reply, signed by Assistant Secretary Sofia Yanto-Abad. While I did not invoke the Freedom of Information Executive Order in my query to Robredo, the letter said that, “a simple reading of EO No. 2 will show that your request is not the property subject of the right to information… and cannot be processed through our FOI.”
The letter, however, advised me to check Robredo’s statements in an interview with Karen Davila on February 15, 2017.
In the one-and-a-half minute interview, Robredo evaded the question by claiming that she has “been linked to so many people” and that the latest was with a “gay supporter from Naga.”
Her response was strange. I haven’t heard or read of any report claiming she was having an affair with somebody who turns out to be merely a “gay supporter from Naga.” That Davila was simply doing PR for Robredo—the video clip was posted by ABS-CBN with the title “Leni Robredo shuts down dating rumors”—is obvious in that she didn’t tell Robredo that she wasn’t asking about alleged relationships with anybody else but with representative Banal, who is not from Naga but from Quezon City.
For Robredo and Davila, “Banal” was the name that could not be mentioned.
Liberal Party operative
Who is Bolet Banal? A Liberal Party operative, his main claim to fame was being discovered – during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona in early 2012 – that he was the source of the media reports on the chief justice’s bank records, which by law are strictly confidential. When called by the Senate to explain how he happened to have the records in his possession, he made the mind-boggling claim that he found them stuck in the grills of his house’s gate.
What made it puzzling was that there were even posters in a few of Robredo’s public events that showed Banal as host, being the “OVP Representative.”
The topic of high government officials having illicit relationships is a legitimate subject for news reporting, because of such liaisons’ potential impact on their actions and policies. The press would be betraying its role if it does not investigate such relationships.
It is a testament to former President Fidel Ramos’ power over media that he managed to mostly keep out of the public eye the story about his mistress, Rosemarie (“Baby”) Arenas, although that was an open secret among the political and economic elite, as she was a wealthy Forbes Park socialite.
Surprisingly, Ramos’ National Security Adviser Jose Almonte in his biography, Endless Journey, boasted that he was Arenas’ “babysitter,” which meant that the President assigned him to handle his rather feisty mistress. Almonte described her as “a personal friend of Ramos’.” He heaped praise on Arenas: “She was key in the (election) campaign, a big contributor, a terrific fund raiser and a gracious and tireless campaigner. She had many friends, contacts in the private sector among the old elite families, and in the media.” I wonder, though, if this was due to her own charm or to the fact she was seen as a having a hot line to Ramos.
With Ramos as her lover, Arenas would even try – unsuccessfully – for a run for a Senate seat in 1995. She successfully ran in 1998 as representative of the third district of Pangasinan, Ramos’ home province, and served three consecutive terms, after which her daughter Rachel succeeded her. She won again as Pangasinan congressman in the last elections and is an ardent supporter of Duterte.
At least Ramos didn’t evade the issue. When asked in a big forum, ironically by a media crackpot, who Arenas was “in his life,” Ramos answered, “She is special.” He then moved on to answer another question.
In the case of Robredo, she obdurately wouldn’t confirm or deny the reports, and I would leave to you, Dear Reader, to hypothesize why.
I will not belabor the point that if she does have a romantic relationship with Banal, who is a married man, her image as being the new version of Cory Aquino, a crusading widow for good govenrment, supported by moralistic churchmen, completely collapses.
What I as a journalist, personally find obnoxious, if the allegations are true, is her sense of entitlement that journalists have no right to probe the personal life of a public figure, even as photos abound in social media, of her and Banal, in poses and gestures most people would interpret as those of two people being a couple.
Does she think we can pretend we are seeing nothing, or would be afraid of tackling the issue?