VERA FILES YEARENDER: Fact-checking public figures with an impact

VERA Files Fact Check tracks and debunks false claims of public officials and public figures with this goal in mind: To hold those in power accountable.

Our work in 2018 has so far drawn the most reactions from the people we’ve fact-checked. We look back at some of them — both negative and positive. They have been edited for brevity.

Vice President Leni Robredo, the controversial Mocha Uson and two other government officials are among the public figures who corrected their mistakes after VERA Files flagged their erroneous statements.

Vice President Leni Robredo

In April, Vice President Leni Robredo wrote an apology to the London School of Economics for mixing up data on poverty and political dynasties in her address:

“It is unfortunate that there was an inadvertent misinterpretation of the list that was presented in the said study, which was integrated in the speech… Please accept our most sincere apologies regarding this mix up. Please be assured that we have instituted the necessary corrective action to prevent similar incidents in the future.”

Former Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson

Then Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, who has a long history of disregard for facts, issued an erratum in August for claiming the Philippines is the only Southeast Asian nation that has a unitary form of government:

“Re-checking on my sources, I agree that the statement is in error and I apologize to all readers for the same.”

Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara

Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, who claimed in November that fellow senator Manny Pacquiao is the first the Filipino to speak before the Oxford Union, admitted his mistake in a tweet.

“I stand corrected then. Thank you.”

Trixie Cruz-Angeles, former social media consultant for Presidential Communications Operations Office

Suspended lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles, a social media consultant for Uson, corrected the errors she made in June about the Senate investigation on former Commission on Elections chief Andres Bautista:

“I am here to issue an erratum. They are correct… Although I do not agree with many of their members and some of their writers, I agree that we should all fact-check each other, call each other out.”

Jover Laurio, author of Pinoy Ako Blog

Anti-Duterte blogger Jover Laurio apologized and took down her July post that linked to the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program a flood control project in Pampanga which partly eroded.

Pasensya na po ng sinabi ko na part eto ng “Build, Build, Build.” Second, yung ginawa niyo po na pag fact checked sa akin ang nagpapatunay na fair po talaga kayo sa pag fact checked ng nga [sic] blog sa Facebook. Whatever is the political color, pag mali dapat itama. Kudos po sa inyo at sa inyong staff. Third, magsisilbing aral po ito sa akin as a blogger na mas lalo pang mag-research para sa mga data na ilalagay sa aking blog.”

On the other hand, presidential legal counsel and now spokesperson Salvador Panelo was among the public figures who took issue with our fact checks, accusing the organization of “nitpicking” and “perverting the truth.”

Presidential spokesperson and legal counsel Salvador Panelo

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, then Duterte’s legal counsel, accused VERA Files of “nitpicking” when it debunked his claim in April that the Philippines contributes 28 percent of the International Criminal Court’s funding.

“We may have been imprecise in arriving at the percentage of the contributions made by the Philippines, but the fact remains that the country had given a substantial amount to the ICC, which could have been allocated by the government in the implementation of its policies that will directly benefit the Filipino people. The 23.7 million pesos contribution of the Philippine government to the ICC is a huge amount that could have been spent instead to [sic] building public schools for the poor children.”

Sass Sasot, author of For the Motherland

Duterte supporter Sass Sasot slammed VERA Files in May after it fact-checked her claim that “China has been a nuclear power since the 1950s.”

Her response, “VERA Files fact-checked a very inconsequential issue to cover up the more consequential ones,” read:

“So Vera Files fact checked me after I said that China has been a nuclear power since the 1950s. Vera Files countered it by saying that China started ‘exploring’ nukes in the 50’s but successfully tested in the 60’s. O diba, ‘exploring’ lang ang ginamit. China started DEVELOPING in the 50s. Pero bakit kaya EXPLORING ang ginamit ng Vera Files na word?”

Former Biliran representative Glenn Chong

Former Biliran representative Glenn Chong took issue with a VERA Files’ story in August that labeled a report by The Daily Sentry website as fake news. A big chunk of the false story was lifted from Chong’s opinion-heavy Facebook post.

“Ang bahaging ito ay walang kinalaman sa issue o subject ng inyong fact-check – coverage ng media. Pero isinama pa rin ninyo upang idawit ang aking isinulat sa Facebook sa inyong report tungkol sa Fake News. That is plainly perverting the truth!…So much for perverting the truth as your business! I WILL BE LESS FORGIVING THE NEXT TIME YOU DO THIS AGAIN. MARK MY WORD. BAKA KAYO ANG AKING ISUSUNOD PAGKATAPOS KO SA FACEBOOK.”

(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.)