President Rodrigo Duterte presides over the 38th Cabinet meeting. Photo from the Presidential Communications Operations Office

VERA FILES FACT CHECK YEARENDER: The Duterte Cabinet’s flip-flops and contradictions in 2019

The sinking of a Filipino fishing boat and the near-release of an ex-mayor convicted of rape and murder are but some of the issues that made headlines in President Rodrigo Duterte’s third year in office.

What made these events even more controversial was the string of flip-flops and contradicting pronouncements left in their wake by the president and his alter egos.

VERA Files Fact Check looked back on the major issues that hounded the country in 2019 and identified five where Duterte and his men failed to get their stories straight.

On the gravity of the Recto Bank allision

On June 9, a Chinese vessel sunk an anchored Philippine fishing boat in Recto Bank at the West Philippine Sea, leaving behind 22 Filipino fisherfolk at the mercy of the high seas. (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: The evolving statements on the Recto Bank allision: a visual timeline)

The incident sparked public outrage. With no word from Duterte for an entire week, members of his Cabinet tried to fill the void, issuing conflicting statements on the gravity of the incident, and whether or not it was intentional.

The Philippine Coast Guard and Maritime Industry Authority, in its joint investigation released almost a month later, classified the incident as a “very serious marine casualty.” The agencies also noted that the Chinese vessel “failed to take appropriate actions to avoid risk of collision and to render assistance to a vessel in distress.”


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On enforcing the PH-China ‘verbal fish deal’

In a speech following the June 9 maritime incident, Duterte said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a “mutual” deal: Chinese fisherfolk were allowed to operate in the area of Recto Bank -- which falls within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) -- as long as their Filipino counterparts were left alone to fish in the China-controlled Scarborough Shoal.

Following Duterte’s pronouncement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles failed to agree on whether the president’s purely verbal deal was, indeed, binding.

Allowing China or any other foreign nationals to fish within the country’s EEZ violates the 1987 Charter and two other local laws. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Allowing China to fish in PH EEZ violates Constitution, local laws)

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On releasing ex-Mayor Sanchez on good conduct time allowance

A debate on the implementation of the good conduct time allowance law ensued after Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and then Corrections chief Nicanor Faeldon in late August confirmed that ex-Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez is among those who will benefit from its retroactive application.

Two days later, amid public outrage, both said the case of Sanchez -- who was convicted for the rape and murder of University of the Philippines-Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta and the torture and murder of Allan Gomez, another student, among other violations -- was still being reviewed to see if he was, indeed, eligible for release.

The issue was further scrutinized in a Senate probe, prompting lawmakers to call for a review of the law, and forced the president to step in to say the current GCTA law excludes those, like Sanchez, who committed heinous crimes. (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Understanding good conduct time allowance for prisoners: 4 things you should know)

Duterte eventually fired Faeldon, who admitted during the Senate probe to signing Sanchez’ “memorandum of release,” and ordered the rearrest and review of the cases of over 1,700 inmates who were freed through GCTA.

On cutting diplomatic ties with Iceland

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in July adopted an Iceland-led resolution that expressed “concern” over allegations of human rights violations in the country, including the “killing of thousands of people allegedly involved in the drug trade and drug use.”

This triggered conflicting statements between the president, through his spokesperson Salvador Panelo, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on whether the Philippines will sever diplomatic ties with the Nordic country.

In September, the Palace confirmed Duterte ordered his government to shun financial assistance from Iceland and the 17 other countries that voted in favor of the resolution.

Related fact check:

On Robredo’s access to drug war records

Less than three weeks after she accepted her appointment as co-chair of the country’s anti-illegal drug efforts, Vice President Leni Robredo was fired by Duterte for supposedly performing “many missteps.”

In a speech after leaving the post, Robredo said she will come out with a report containing her “discoveries” during her 19-day stint as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), together with her recommendations.

Panelo dismissed Robredo’s statement and insisted that no “secret” was kept from the vice president in the first place. This negated Duterte’s pronouncement days prior that Robredo was on a “need to know” status only. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Panelo negates Duterte, now says Robredo had ‘access to everything’ in ICAD)

As Vice President, Robredo is a member of the National Security Council, which entitles her to access classified information. The vice president is part of the council’s executive committee, which reviews “national issues and concerns” and formulates “positions and solutions for consideration of the NSC,” which then advises the president.

Related fact checks:

-- Meeko Angela Camba


Sources

On Recto Bank allision

On PH-China verbal fish deal

On GCTA

On Iceland

On Robredo’s ICAD stint


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

FOR FURTHER READING

VERA FILES FACT CHECK YEARENDER: Ang mga flip-flop at pagkokontrahan sa Duterte Cabinet sa 2019

Ang paglubog ng isang bangkang pangingisda ng Pilipino at ang muntik na pagpapakawala sa isang…

VERA FILES FACT SHEET: The evolving statements on the Recto Bank allision: a visual timeline

In this timeline, VERA Files compiled the evolution of statements on the June 9 incident and the…

VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Ang nagbabagong mga pahayag sa Recto Bank allision: isang timeline

Pumanig si Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte sa China sa panukala nito na magsagawa ng isang magkasanib na…

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