There seem to be no winners in the latest kerfuffle between newly minted Senate President Vicente Sotto III and the online news site Inquirer.net, after the senator asked the latter to take down three articles suggesting he bullied the starlet Pepsi Paloma in 1982 into dropping a rape complaint against his brother and showbiz friends, before she took her own life in 1985.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Sotto claimed victory, saying the Inquirer had agreed to take down the three articles published between 2014 and 2016—even though the online news site said it had not yet decided one way or the other on his request.
“They will [take it down]… because it’s fake news. It’s [the] original fake news,” Mr. Sotto said.
Asked if he would file libel charges if the Inquirer refuses to take the articles down, the senator said: “Just wait for them to issue a statement whether they will take down that fake news or not.”
Mr. Sotto, who portrays himself as an advocate and defender of press freedom, urged journalists not to blow the issue out of proportion.
He also bristled at the suggestion that his request was a violation of press freedom, saying those who were paid to destroy his reputation are not protected by the constitutional guarantee of free speech.
But here’s the rub.
Mr. Sotto, who pushed to include a draconian provision on libel in the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, is no friend of press freedom, and this is not the first time he has asked a news organization to remove content that put him in an unflattering light.
It is puzzling, meanwhile, that the Inquirer, which prides itself on its “fearless views,” has taken more than a day to decide on the Senate president’s request.
After all, what is there left to investigate, if it did its job back in 2014 and 2016 and vetted the three articles in question before they were published? And if it takes the articles down now, as Sotto says it will, won’t it owe the senator and its readers an apology for publishing what it tacitly acknowledges as “fake” news?
It is ironic that some conspiracy theorists today see a nefarious plot by the opposition Liberal Party and media to demolish the reputation of Mr. Sotto, simply because he is an administration ally. What they fail to see is that, Mr. Sotto, like most politicians, has affiliated himself with various political camps during his long career that began in 1988. Just before that, he even wrote one of the popular anthems of the 1986 People Power revolt that swept the “yellow forces” rallying behind Cory Aquino to power.
If we are talking about the Pepsi Paloma rape case now, more than three decades later, it isn’t because of some yellow conspiracy. It’s because Mr. Sotto brought it up himself when he decided it was a good idea to ask a news organization to tacitly admit fault and pull stories that, published two to four years ago, were no longer in the public eye.