Team Duterte goes on defense as Vera Files alleges president received millions of pesos in gifts

Salvador Panelo. Photo: Office of the Presidential Spokesperson FB
Salvador Panelo. Photo: Office of the Presidential Spokesperson FB

A report released yesterday by nonprofit, investigative website Vera Files accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of having taken in hundreds of millions of pesos as a 69th birthday “gift” in March 2014 was slammed at an 11am press conference by presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, who demanded they produce proof.

The report alleges that seven deposits amounting to PHP193,705,616 (US$3.7 million) were made to bank accounts belonging President Duterte and his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte. The bank accounts could be found in the BPI Julia Vargas branch in Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

Read: Spotted at BPI Julia Vargas Avenue: Rodrigo Duterte…the mascot

Vera Files said they obtained the Duterte bank records from the Senate, which had been submitted by then-Senator Antonio Trillanes IV in 2016 as part of his exposé on Duterte. During the 2016 elections, Trillanes accused Duterte of keeping millions of pesos in these bank accounts while he was Davao City mayor.

Duterte admitted at the time that he did have bank accounts in BPI Ortigas Center, but said they held less than PHP50,000 (US$955.94).

When asked about new Vera Files’ report at this afternoon’s press conference, Panelo said in a mix of English and Filipino, “Is that true? Does he (Vera) have any evidence to that effect? A lot of people have said that the president has hundreds of millions of pesos, but it’s not true.

Read: Journalist Ellen Tordesillas says admin’s accusations an attack on media, exposes them to danger

“Like what is often said, one who alleges must prove [his allegations]. If you cannot prove that, don’t say anything because you’re just slandering [Duterte].

“From what I know, when someone gives him gifts, he sends it directly to the Office of the President. In other words, [it’s] the government of the Philippines that will receive the gift. Not him (Duterte). He doesn’t accept [gifts] personally.”

The Vera Files report came out more than a week after Duterte said in a speech at the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) headquarters in Camp Crame in Quezon City that cops should be allowed to accept gifts and that he considered law that prohibits them from doing so “nonsense.”

A few days after the president said that, his own interior secretary, Eduardo Año, warned members of the PNP that they would face criminal and administrative charges if they accept gifts.

Vera Files and its founder, Ellen Tordesillas, have long been at the receiving end of the Duterte administration’s attacks.

In May, Panelo released a laughable diagram that allegedly revealed a plot by Tordesillas, the news website Rappler, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and ABS-CBN journalist Inday Espina-Varona to oust and discredit the president.

Shortly after the diagram was released, Duterte called Tordesillas “a prostitute.” A month later, Duterte claimed that Tordesillas was stricken with cancer and asking money from people to fund her medical treatments.

Tordesillas has denied the government’s accusations that she was part of a plot to overthrow the president. She also said that she has long been cured of cancer and that it was her former publisher and two senators who helped her pay for her treatments. Not that anyone should ever have to apologize for getting money to pay for life-saving medical treatment.

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