Philippine government on Monday (Apr 22) warned the press against plotting to “destroy” President Rodrigo Duterte’s government, as his spokesman accused journalists of spreading fake news.
The warning followed recent local news reports alleging the Duterte family’s involvement in illegal drugs and raising questions about a large increase in his wealth.
“They are all there doing their thing, trying to destroy this government by spreading false news and planting intrigues against the government,” Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo told a news conference.
He released a graphic which he said showed how a video of a hooded man alleging the Duterte family’s role in the narcotics trade was shared by one journalist to colleagues employed by other Philippine news outfits.
The news organisations named have all reported extensively on Duterte’s crackdown against illegal drugs that has left more than 5,000 suspects dead at the hands of the police in what rights groups have said may be a crime against humanity.
Panelo said the ouster allegations were based on information shared by a foreign intelligence agency which he would not name.
“In other words, what these people are doing is to give succour or assist the enemy, if they are not the enemy themselves,” Panelo said.
Last week Duterte publicly lashed out at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), which published a report about the rise in the president’s net worth.
“In the coming weeks, I will return the favour. So Philippine Investigative, you better stop,” Duterte said.
Panelo said Monday the Duterte government was putting these journalists and news outfits on notice but would not pursue legal action against them “for now”.
“But if the plot thickens and they perform acts which are already violation(s) of the penal laws, that’s a different story,” Panelo added.
The comments came weeks after the government twice briefly detained Maria Ressa, chief executive of the online news site Rappler over tax evasion, securities fraud and other charges.
Panelo named Ressa and Rappler, PCIJ, and Vera Files, among others, in the list of news organisations allegedly plotting against Duterte.
He accused Ellen Tordesillas, the Vera Files president, of spreading the video clip alleging Duterte family involvement in the narcotics trade.
Ressa, tweeting about the ouster allegations, called them “ludicrous” and “yet another (presidential) palace ploy to harass journalists”.
Panelo said the government has “never stifled dissent in this country”.
Tordesillas called the supposed ouster plot “downright false”, while PCIJ has said its reports were all based on documents issued by Duterte himself in his required annual filings on assets and liabilities.
Duterte in previous years has also lashed out at other critical media outfits, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper and broadcaster ABS-CBN.
He threatened to go after their owners over alleged unpaid taxes or block the network’s franchise renewal application.