The omnipresent lies of Rigoberto Tiglao

Rigoberto Tiglao strikes again. That is with emphasis on “again” because he conjures up his conspiracy theories and repeats them over and over again like Joseph Goebbels. Either he does not read the replies to his indictments or he refuses to do fact-checking which is part and parcel of opinion writing. Either way, his accusations make for nice clickbait posts patronized by social media misinformation trolls.

Writing for his Manila Times column this March 25, 2022, Tiglao charges that four independent media organizations are funded by U.S. bankrollers and are campaigning for Vice President Leni Robredo. These four, he says, are Vera Files, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Rappler, and MindaNews.

Tiglao claims that since they receive financing from organizations in the United States, these media outfits are defying Philippine law because, as he states it, “The Constitution bars any foreign money in media.” He has previously made similar accusations using the same argument, but this time, he adds: “In the past five years trying — unsuccessfully, obviously — to pull down President Duterte’s political support and popularity, these media firms have now mobilized to campaign both subtly and overtly for Washington’s candidate, Leni Robredo.”

On May 11, 2019, when Tiglao first started his tirades that he loves to rehash, Vera Files published a detailed fact sheet as a response. For the record, the charges came a year after Vera Files made an editorial advocacy of fact-checking “the false and misleading statements of public officials and figures, including those of President Rodrigo Duterte, his supporters and critics.”

Not only that, Vera Files also published a Tagalog version of the fact sheet ten days later on May 21, 2019. These two fact sheets are in addition to what Ellen Tordesillas, Vera Files president, wrote in her personal blog on May 5, 2019.

Perhaps Tiglao has run out of items on the menu of his carinderiafor troll army readers because almost three years later, he is rehashing the same opinion without providing any of the responses from these media organizations. Opinion journalism is not made of such reckless stuff.

The links to these replies of Vera Files are accessible in this article. Let us privilege readers with the answers to Tiglao’s never-ending tirades that riddle his mind, even if these have been repeatedly debunked.

But for starters, readers can check the source of Vera Files’ funds because these are truthfully stated on the About page of its website. As a non-profit media organization (notice that its website does not have paid ads), Vera Files “… relies on grants, the proceeds from the sale of its stories, and donations and contributions from its trustees and supporters to fund its operations. It screens donors, contributors and grantors carefully and does not accept funding that will compromise its independence and nonpartisanship.”

Where do these grants come from? On that matter there is no secrecy either.

The fact sheet lists 15 grant-giving agencies. Again, we shall privilege the reader and enumerate them all: 1. Transparency and Accountability Network, 2. Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, 3. Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines, Inc., 4. United Nations Population Fund, 5. United Nations Development Fund, 6. British Embassy Manila, 7. US Embassy Manila, 8. The Asia Foundation for the project “Reporting on Persons with Disabilities,” 9. Reporters sans Frontières for “Media Ownership Monitor: Who Owns the Media in the Philippines,” 10. World Health Organization and Bloomberg Philanthropies for the project “Road Safety Journalism Fellowship,” 11. Internews’ Earth Journalism Network for the project “Earth Files,” 12. Global Road Safety Partnership, 13. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 14. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) for “Vera Files Fact Check,” and 15. Facebook, Vera Files being one of three designated third-party fact-checkers in the Philippines.

Does the Philippine Constitution prohibit media organizations from receiving foreign grants? The answer is No. This is what the Constitution states: “Article XVI, Section 11: The ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly-owned and managed by such citizens.”

Even the state, represented by the Philippine government, is not prohibited by the Constitution from receiving foreign funding. In fact, the government accepts grants from various donors, and not only from the well-known institutions such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the European Union (the largest donor of development aid in the world), and Australian Aid (AusAid). In fact, this list is shamefully short if we are to enumerate all the development funds the Philippine government receives as grants.

Had Tiglao done his research, he can secure the list Vera Files’ funders from the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC requires mandatory disclosures, and lists several categories for foreign funding as options: public officer of a foreign government, foreign government, private institution/business/company outside the Philippines, international organizations, World Bank, and other United Nations agencies. Furthermore, the SEC allows foreign funding in the form of debts, endowments, grants, contributions, and donations.

Since it embarked on its fact-checking advocacy, Vera Files has featured and corrected misinformation on social media, including those from the political opposition to the Duterte administration. How can it be a campaigner for Robredo without betraying its journalistic advocacy?

Disclosure: this opinion writer is not an employee of Vera Files. Opinion journalists who are serious in the engagement of public thought will think twice about writing for media organization with dubious funding sources like the CIA, as Tiglao avers. Such funds can be very ephemeral, addressing fleeting short-term political issues. In time, the spigot dries up when these political issues die down. Perhaps fly-by-night media organizations do that. Not those fantasized by the conspiratorial mind of Rigoberto Tiglao. Oh, by the way, he once said that Maria Ressa is Indonesian and that he was sure of it. Now he says she is Filipino-American. Did Ressa’s Indonesian blood evaporate into thin air?

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