PALACE EXECS BRUSH OFF LENILEAKS
By Julius Leonen
Filipino-American billionaire lobbyist and Liberal Party (LP) stalwart Loida Nicolas-Lewis defended her right and those of other Filipino-Americans critical of President Duterte to be involved in the country’s politics following an email leak that implied her participation in an alleged plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a statement issued in her Facebook page yesterday, Nicolas-Lewis said that overseas Filipinos like her have the right to be involved in the country’s political developments.
“We have a right, even a duty, to be involved in our homeland and participate as much as we can in its politics,” she said. She added it is wrong to “disparage or demean comments from overseas Filipinos.”
“Just because we are Overseas Filipinos (OFs) does not mean that we have lost our right to be involved in or speak out on developments in our home country,” Nicolas-Lewis said.
“Like myself, many of us are dual citizens and therefore retain our full rights as Filipinos. It is therefore wrong to disparage or demean comments from overseas Filipinos,” she said.
GMA News Online also reported yesterday that Nicolas-Lewis claimed that there is no plot to oust President Duterte, explaining that they were only reminding the Chief Executive’s promise to resign if he fails to end the drug epidemic.
“First: No plot to oust Duterte. Resign Duterte Movement is based on President Duterte’s own words that he would resign if drugs are still rampant six months after his inauguration. Second, Global Filipino Diaspora Council is a Public Site. If there is a conspiracy, would it be discussed in a public page?” Nicolas-Lewis said, according to the report.
A blogger using the alias “Thinking Pinoy” published on his website last January 6 damning emails from a group known as the “Global Filipino Diaspora Council” or GFDC, a coalition of Liberal Party sympathizers dedicated to supporting Vice President Leni Robredo and her party.
It was revealed in the email leak that members of the GFDC’s email group allegedly collaborated to call for the resignation of Mr. Duterte, who was described as a “psycho mass murderer president” in an email, purportedly to protect Robredo from being ousted.
Nicolas-Lewis and her sister Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) Chairman Imelda “Mely” Nicolas are among the active recipients of the GFDC’s email group, according to the blogger’s expose.
Other influential personalities who are part of the group, according to the email leak, include Philippine Daily Inquirer’s US-based columnist Ted Laguatan, ABS-CBN News’ Europe-based correspondent Atty. Gene Alcantara, and CFO Commissioner Jose Molano Jr.
The GFDC’s email group however, which according to Nicolas-Lewis was a public page, became restricted to the prying eyes of the public following the revelations of the group’s existence.
Palace officials, however, shrugged off the supposed ouster plot revealed in the e-mail exchanges.
In a chance interview with reporters on the sidelines of a mass oathtaking ceremony for new government appointees in Malacañang, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he finds the so-called “Lenileaks” issue as “non-sense”.
Propaganda test — Lorenzana
“It’s nothing. I do not believe it,” Lorenzana said, adding that while “there could be” such attempts, it remains a “propaganda test”.
“It’s like an experiment, more of a propaganda test… testing if it will be convincing or how will the people react to it,” the Defense Secretary noted.
Lorenzana added the electronic mail (e-mail) conversations are not that “scandalous” to bother the government.
The “Lenileaks” consisting of e-mail exchanges on a public Yahoo! Group of Laguatan outlined organizational tactics and online media strategies to boost the Vice President’s popularity.
For his part, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. said that while ouster threats tagging the Vice President is not far-fetched, he finds it unnecessary to give attention to it during their scheduled Cabinet meeting Monday.
The Cabinet Secretary also said that it is not necessary for the Vice President to explain anything to the rest of the Cabinet, saying that any plan to oust Mr. Duterte will “surely fail.”
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said his office still have to verify the e-mail exchanges.
“It is important in the sense that we have to know the veracity of some things, as they affect our stability,” Esperon said.
He said the move to oust the Chief Executive is “unfair”, adding that the best way to counter such opposition is through the Duterte administration delivering on its promises.
“The (ouster movement) should not be the flavor of the month. This is something we already know. The best way to address this is to show that we are effective in anti-drugs, that we can address the problems they are concerned with,” he said.
No DoJ probe
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said there is no basis as yet to conduct an investigation on the alleged plot.
“As long as they do not violate the law… there is nothing wrong to dream,” he said.
Aguirre believes that both Robredo and Sen. Leila de Lima, the staunchest critic of Duterte stayed at Lewis’ home during their visit in the US last year.
Aguirre, however, said that while calling for the resignation of President Duterte is legal, conspiring to overthrow the head of state is illegal.
“There is nothing illegal if they conspire to call for the resignation of the president,” the Justice chief said. “It is a different thing if they conspire to overthrow the duly constituted authorities,” he added.
Aguirre dismissed the alleged ouster plot against President Duterte as mere “noise” by Robredo’s alleged Filipino-American stalwarts and lobbyists, accusing them of pushing Robredo to become the country’s President.
“They are just making noise,” Aguirre said. “She (Nicolas-Lewis) is calling for the Vice President to become president. She is calling for the resignation of the President. She is a dreamer. There are only few who are making a noise although they have money,” Robredo said.
Accusations ‘ridiculous’ — Leni
Embattled Vice President Leni Robredo yesterday finally broke her silence as she denied involvement in an alleged ouster plot on Mr. Duterte.
Over the weekend, Robredo also blasted her critics for hurling “purely ridiculous” accusations against her, insisting that she has a mandate to follow and she does not need to explain herself in every allegation her critics throw against her.
Speaking to reporters in Marinduque yesterday, Robredo said that she finds it “shocking” that critics would imply that the emails, were secretly exchanged when the group was available for the public to be read.
“For me, I think it’s shocking (for people to would think) that what was being said in the (email group) was secret, then why was the group available for public viewing?” Robredo said.
Robredo also denied that she directly participated in the email group, insisting that while her name was mentioned, she was not a member of the group. Robredo also said that she does not find it surprising if her name was being dragged in the controversy since she is the Vice President and she has lots of supporters.
“My name was mentioned, but I don’t find it surprising, because I am the Vice President. We have many supporters who react to what my critics have been doing to us,” she said.
Robredo said that instead of paying attention to her critics, she would rather concentrate in working amid the “viciousness on the Internet.” Netizens have been scoring the Vice President for keeping silent regarding the email leak.
“We are at the receiving end of incessant fake news articles, many stories (about me) are wrong,” Robredo said.
“But for me, as much as possible, I want to concentrate in my work.
“We have a mandate to perform, and if we let ourselves get carried away with the evil that is happening online, how are we able to fulfill our mandate?” Robredo said.
Leni denies meeting Loida lately
Robredo also claimed she has not met or talked with Nicolas-Lewis who supported her in the 2016 elections even when she went on a vacation in New York during the yuletide season.
“The last time I’ve talked with her was a long time ago. I don’t know if that was before the campaign or during the campaign, I think it was before. She was among those who supported me when I ran for congresswoman, because she is from Bicol,” Robredo said.
“But after the elections, when I finally won, I don’t remember if we had a chance to meet. Some people said that we met in America, but that is not true,” Robredo said.
“Even a personal meeting, or a telephone call, we did not call or meet in America. The news that has been circulating is wrong,” she added.
Robredo also lashed out at Justice Secretary Aguirre II for claiming that she stayed at Nicolas-Lewis’ abode in New York City during her holiday vacation.
“Even (Justice Secretary Aguirre) is among those who are spreading lies (about me).He is the Secretary of the DoJ, I hope he does not spread lies. Because that is a lie. I never talked and I never saw (Nicolas-Lewis) when I traveled to America,” Robredo said.
In a speech before the Ateneo Student Leaders’ Assembly Homecoming on Sunday, Robredo lambasted her critics for throwing “purely ridiculous” allegations against her.
During her speech, she did not however directly address the email leak which has implicated her in the alleged ouster plot.
Last December, the Vice President resigned from her Cabinet post as Housing chief after being ordered by President Duterte to desist from attending Cabinet meetings. Following her resignation, Robredo was hailed as the new leader of the opposition.
Solons views differ
The Palace move to probe the Lenileaks emails did not come as a surprise, Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel said yesterday.
His colleague, Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon, however, called rubbish the allegation implicating his party mate in the Liberal Party (LP), Vice President Robredo.
“We are not doing anything. This is all crap. You can quote me on that,” Drilon said when asked by reporters for his reaction on the alleged emails containing plots to oust Duterte from office.
“I haven’t talked to her but I can assure you that this alleged plot is farthest from the mind of VP Leni. There is no such thing, I can assure you,” he said.
Pimentel who is not only the President’s closest ally in the Senate but is also a party mate in the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) said Malacañang cannot be blamed for ordering a probe on the issue this time around on the so-called “LeniLeaks.”
“All rumors about destabilization or threats to the administration should be investigated and seriously treated which was the attitude of the Palace. So I will not blame them for that. I will not criticize them for that,” Pimentel said.
It’s unfortunate, Drilon said, that Malacañang is giving attention on the issue that appeared in social media which could only prove to be misleading as it’s not factual and efforts to investigate it may only be a waste of time.
“Being logical about it, if it’s serious, do you think it should be in social media?” Drilon asked.
He urged Malacañang to exercise extreme caution in giving credence to such reports in social media.
“Because today, anyone can post it, especially with the trolls operating in social media,” he said.
House Minority Leader Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez also downplayed the controversy around the alleged leaked emails.
In a telephone interview, Suarez told the Tribune it is a normal act for a traditional political opposition to resort to discredit an incumbent administration to advance their political agenda which is to lay to claim to power.
“As long as there is nothing illegal in what they are calling for, there is nothing wrong with that,” Suarez said.
“If they would stop criticizing the administration, then they would not be doing their job as an opposition,” the solon said.
Law Professor Antonio Contreras agreed with Suarez there is nothing illegal in the so-called Lenileaks.
“Like I said, the conversations may not prove anything illegal in general. I do not even think that the emails are in any way seditious. It is all part of partisan politics,” Contreras stated in his social media account.
However, Contreras said the alleged leaked emails “surely compromises the political integrity of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) as some of the emails supposedly shows the active involvement of the OVP in “directing Robredo’s supporters, to attack not only the President, but his supporters, Bongbong Marcos his son,” which the law professor said is at the very least, scandalous. “More so if public funds are used,” he added.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the few Libreal Party (LP) members who had opted to stick with yellow faction of the LP, expectedly defended Robredo and her camp in the so-called Lenileaks.
“A plain reading of the suspected email conversations cited by Malacañang does not manifest a design to destabilize the government or oust President Duterte,” said Lagman as he stressed the emails going viral, are in exercise of the freedom of expression and are protected by the Bill of Rights as an essential component of democratic space.
“While some of the emails may suggest the resignation of Duterte for an erratic decision favoring the burial of the late dictator Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani and for failure to solve the drug menace, they express honest opinions and do not recommend any radical action or upheaval to pre-terminate Duterte’s incumbency,” said Lagman.
“If the President’s men believe that Duterte is rendering fealty to his mandate, then their phobia of his impending ouster is grossly misplaced and is conveniently used as a pretext to discourage and censure critical dissent,” he added. Benjamin B. Pulta, Ted Tuvera, Angie M. Rosales, Charlie V. Manalo