Fact check: Despite lacking expertise, blogger claims Robredo has speech and mental problems

Fact check: Despite lacking expertise, blogger claims Robredo has speech and mental problems
In this March 6, 2020 photo, Vice President Leni Robredo speaks at the graduation of Leaders for Excellence and Public Service Mayors’ Fellowship Program Batch 3 at the Quezon City Reception House.
OVP / Jay Ganzon

MANILA, Philippines — A blogger who runs a YouTube channel that has taken numerous jabs at Vice President Leni Robredo has recently claimed in a new video that Robredo has 'palilalia', a speech condition that makes people repeat words and phrases.

CLAIM: "Leni has a limitation in her thinking because of this speech disorder. It's like her mind isn't running straight. Something in her mind is shaken up," he said in the video.

RATING: This is false


What the full post said

"THIS IS NOT A JOKE - VP Leni is suffering from a psychiatric disorder. Like broken circuitry in the motherboard of a computer," vlogger Manuel Mejorada said in a tweet in mixed Filipino and English. 

"It's not hard to understand...Her mind isn't working right anymore. We are witness to the repeated manifestation of psychiatric and neurological disorder in the head of Leni Robredo."

The claims came in a video entitled "SALTIK SA UTAK: "Palilalia" ang tawag sa paulit-ulit (repetitive) na pananalita ni VP Robredo" posted to his YouTube channel Manuel Mejorada. 

As of November 11, the video has garnered 17,260 views and some 1,200 likes on YouTube. 

Mejorada, who is not a medical expert, starts by presenting the definition of palilalia in a study on PubMed.gov published in the US National Library of Medicine. The definition reads: 

Palilalia, a disorder of speech characterized by compulsive repetitions of utterances has been found in various neurological and psychiatric disorders. It has commonly been interpreted as a defect of motor speech.

He went on to claim that Robredo has started to "lose her sanity" for some two years. "Just a bit more and she'll go crazy," he said. 

His basis for the claim? Robredo's repeated use of the word "iyong" in her public addresses and interviews, and her supposed flip-flops from earlier statements. 

"She [always] needs to correct herself. She needs to clarify what she said the next day. That just means she just doesn't know how to deliver her message in the right way," he said. 

FROM INTERAKSYON: ‘The Kit,’ poem born out of Duterte’s ramblings in speech, marks 1st year anniversary

Mejorada also pointed to one instance in 2019 where Robredo said she was misquoted by international news organization Reuters, saying that what she meant in an earlier exchange was that the Duterte administration's so-called drug war must be “tweaked”.

This came after the foreign outlet reported that Robredo said the government's anti-drug campaign was "obviously not working."

"Reuters fairly and accurately represented the statements of Philippine vice president Leni Robredo, and we stand by our story," Reuters Asia Pacific Communications Manager Tyler Thia said as the outlet stood by its story.

Mejorada spent over half of the video talking about the Reuters article as he argued that the vice president must have palilalia. 

Philstar.com has reached out to the Office of the Vice President for comment on the accusation. This story will be updated with their response. 

What it left out

Properly, palilalia is a symptom where one exhibits vocal tics such as repeating their own words, and is not in itself a psychiatric disorder. The Tourette Association of American says palilalia is "often viewed as the hallmark symptoms in people with Tourette Syndrome."

Dr. John Walkup, director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, describes the tic as a "repetition of one's own words."

"One will say something like, 'I'm going to the store. I'm going to the store.' Or, 'That's exciting. Exciting.' Where someone would repeat their own words," he says in this video

Taking back earlier statements is in no way an effect of the language tic, which cannot necessarily be diagnosed as it is not a disorder in itself. 

Mejorada also refers to the post as an "exclusive" in the video description. 

However, no experts on the topic are interviewed, and he presents no evidence to back up his claims about the vice president. 

Philstar.com screengrab as of 2:44 p.m. on Nov. 7, 2021

Essential context

Manuel "Boy" Mejorada, a former Iloilo provincial administrator who now refers to himself as an investigative journalist with "over 40 years experience as a journalist," is a criminal convicted of four counts of libel.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a party-mate of Robredo's, filed another cyber libel complaint against Mejorada in July, accusing the latter of "continuous and deliberate efforts [to] injure my reputation and character."

This, despite Mejorada already being sentenced to imprisonment for libel over a previous case filed by the senator.

Amid her vocal criticism of the Duterte administration, and now her bid for the presidency, Robredo has long been the target of disinformation by pro-administration accounts on social media. 

As he backed Reuters in its earlier disagreement with Robredo, Mejorada said: "They have to report the words she said in the interview...that is what we call objectivity in journalism."

Why does this matter?

Mejorada in his video also referred to Robredo as being someone "[na] may saltik sa utak," which is considered a derogatory term against people dealing with mental health afflictions. 

In the Philippines, mental health advocates have sought to struggle against the decades-long problem of having mental health conversations as taboo and those grappling with it dealing with the stigma.

"Many of our countrymen are faced with different mental health challenges and are having difficulty seeking help due to the stigma," the Commission on Human Rights said earlier this year after a movie poster drew backlash over its "stereotypical" and discriminatory portrayal of persons who may have mental health issues.

"This is why mass media should be more sensitive in discussing this issue," it also said in Filipino. 

Incidentally, Robredo herself is an ardent advocate for better mental health services in the Philippines. While a member of Congress, Robredo filed a bill at the House of Representatives that sought to provide Filipinos with better access to mental health services.

She has said in her public channels that the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need for more investment in mental health. 

"The things we need to invest in are in front of us: Strengthen our community-based mental health services as well as our mental health services in hospitals," said Robredo in a message for a "Virtual March for Mental Health" event in October 2020.

"Most of all, encourage others to share their mental health struggles, and treat them with acceptance and the dignity they deserve," she added.

 Franco Luna with reports from Kristine Joy Patag and Christian Deiparine 

This story is part of the Philippine Fact-check Incubator, an Internews initiative to build the fact-checking capacity of news organizations in the Philippines and encourage participation in global fact-checking efforts

Have a claim you want fact-checked? Reach out to us at [email protected].

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