Panelo hits New York Times editorial vs Duterte as 'false information'

MANILA, Philippines – Reacting to a New York Times (NYT) editorial that hit President Rodrigo Duterte over his "brutal" stance making the Philippines the most dangerous country for environmental activists, Malacañang slammed the publication for spreading "false information" on Duterte's presidency.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Palace "takes exception" to the NYT editorial, which highlighted findings of nongovernmental organization Global Witness. The group's report showed 30 of the 164 land and environmental activists murdered in 2018 were from the Philippines.

"The editorial of the NYT is not surprising since the newspaper has been dishing out false information and narratives on the Philippine situation under the leadership of PRRD [President Rodrigo Roa Duterte]," Panelo said in a statement on Saturday, August 3.

Panelo then fended off criticism as he accused NYT of not exerting "research required of responsive journalism."

"The NYT has the reckless habit of relying mainly on false facts regarding this administration's campaign against illegal drugs and the causes of murders occurring in the land areas of the country, peddled by the communist rebels and their supporting left-leaning organizations, as well as the political opposition," Panelo said.

On the high number of killings, Panelo said communists, not the government, were to blame for the deaths as he claimed Global Witness failed "to factor the local communist movement and armed conflicts as critical components."

Global Witness had highlighted how crimes against environmental defenders were often "aided by the people and institutions meant to prevent them."

"The Philippines Army, in particular, has been linked to numerous killings of defenders, working in collusion with powerful private interests. Meanwhile, the country’s legal system is used to criminalize and intimidate land and environmental defenders, while officials who are complicit in these crimes go unpunished," the group said in its report.

'Duterte not brutal'

Panelo likewise slammed the NYT editorial for calling Duterte "brutal."

"The President is not brutal. He does not allow any law enforcer to use savage methods in enforcing the law.... The President is very strict in enforcing the law. No friendship, alliances or blood relationship temper nor impede this enforcement. No one is spared from the harsh application of the law," he said.

Yet Duterte has said in the past he would pardon cops who killed civilians and criminals in the line of duty as part of his anti-crime strategy. Duterte had also made conflicting statements as he promised to promote cops who murder criminals, and later on say abusive cops would be punished.

Recently, Duterte had also warned of doing "something drastic" to address back-to-back killings in Negros island.

Panelo, however, argued that "unlike in the past" following the law under Duterte "is not an option but requires absolute obedience to it."

"Transgressors of the law are meted with punishment as provided by law bar none.... Either one obeys the law or he disobeys and he suffers the consequence of the disobedience," he said.

Panelo vowed: "No force on earth nor the baseless condemnation from the outside world will chain or halt this President from performing the constitutional command of protecting the nation and preserving the Republic."

Global Witness earlier called on the Philippine government to “stop businesses and private actors from grabbing ancestral lands from its people, and from using violence and threats to silence those who object.” – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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