Fact check: Supposed photos of 'secret meeting' between Robredo, former Comelec chief

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Fact check: Supposed photos of 'secret meeting' between Robredo, former Comelec chief
Photo shows a screengrab from a video originally posted in July 2016 by a Facebook user named “Dayaang Matuwid” who claimed that Robredo and Bautista secretly met after the Supreme Court ordered Robredo camp to comment on the electoral protest filed by Marcos Jr.
Philstar.com Screengrab

MANILA, Philippines — Old photographs of Vice President Leni Robredo's meeting with Commission on Elections chairman Andres Bautista are resurfacing on social media with a completely different narrative. Are these posts misinformation?

CLAIM: Robredo supposedly met in secret with former Comelec chair Andres Bautista just nights before the 2016 elections, where she was elected vice president. 

RATING: This is misleading.

FACTS: The supposed secret meeting happened at a different time, and according to those involved, was not a secret at all.

What the posts say

"LENI Robredo, the THIEF in the night. She talked to Andy Bautista before the election. Fake VP. Never again. Never forget. Protect or vote," Twitter user "Gigi Jardin" said on social media.

The account, which was created in August 2021, has "BBM and Sara #UNITEAM2022" for its bio.

"Why did Madumb meet up with former chairman COMELEC in 2016 a few days before the election in the middle of the night, like a thief in the night and maybe to help her through the night?" user "Joe Pring", who joined Twitter in September 2021 and has over 4,500 followers, asked. 

What the claims left out

Even the posts themselves contradict each other's narratives. "They just met at the condo in Makati as a friend a few days after the 2016 election," a certain Salim Muklo posted in a Facebook group called ABL.

In most, if not all of the recent posts resurfacing the photos, the timeline of events is incorrect. None of the reposts were consistent with one another.  

The original video was actually posted in July 2016 — months after the elections — by a Facebook user named “Dayaang Matuwid” who claimed that Robredo and Bautista secretly met after the Supreme Court ordered Robredo camp to comment on the electoral protest filed by Marcos Jr.

The elections began on May 9, 2016 while the results were officialized on May 27. 

"Barely 8 hours after the Supreme Court made the order, Leni Robredo held a secret meeting with fellow respondent and Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista at the 10th floor of the Urdaneta Apartments in Makati. The meeting was held at the unit of socialite Baby Cruz," the video uploader said.

The video has since been taken down. 

READ: Robredo, Bautista: There was no 'secret meeting'

"There was no such secret meeting, I attended a dinner party. Maybe about 40 people were there. Comelec chairman was one of the guests but I don't even remember that we talked, it was like we just said hello but we didn't talk," Robredo said then in Filipino in a press conference.

"There were more than 30 people with, in fact, members of the diplomatic corps. There was no secret meeting whatsoever.  In fact, I only had a one-sentence hello with Madame Vice President, so there was no secret meeting," Bautista said in a separate forum.

Robredo slammed the viral video as "malicious," pointing out that it did not show any video of her and Bautista speaking to each other.

Essential context

The posts came as doubts swirled over the integrity of the state's poll body after Manila Bulletin reported Monday afternoon that an unnamed group of hackers had managed to hack into Comelec's systems on January 8 and "download more than 60 gigabytes of data that could possibly affect the May 2022 elections." 

In response to the article, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the commission is aware of the report and is validating assertions made in the article.

"With no independent verification that a hack has indeed taken place, one thing immediately stands out: the article alleges that the hackers were able to 'download files that included, among others, usernames and PINS of vote-counting machines (VCM)," he said in a statement.

"The fact, however, is that such information still does not exist in COMELEC systems simply because the configuration files — which includes usernames and PINs — have not yet been completed. This calls into question the veracity of the hacking claim." 

READ: Worries raised over poll integrity as Comelec moves to verify alleged hack

Marcos, a former senator and son of late dictator Ferdinand, protested the results of the 2016 elections, but this has since been unanimously struck down by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal on February 16, 2021.

The vice president, the de facto leader of the opposition, has long been the target of disinformation by pro-administration accounts on social media since she was elected in 2016.

Most recently, Robredo has been on the receiving end of fake news created by accounts supporting Marcos' presidential run.

Earlier, pro-administration accounts posted content claiming that the Commission on Elections had confirmed that she had been disqualified, supposedly due to a crowdfunding initiative by her team.

Robredo also called into question two altered photos that claimed her supporters held a rally in Manila in violation of social distancing protocols, and that she sold fish at a market.

Why does this matter?

As of this writing, Muklo's post has garnered over 1,100 reactions, 103 comments, and 50 shares.

ABL, the Facebook group he posted it in, has over 43,200 members. It describes itself as a "group of people with interest in Philippine politics and the upliftment of the national culture." Popular topics in the group include the hashtags "AnyoneButLeni" and "BBMSARA2022," with pro-Marcos posts making up hundreds of posts in the group's wall.

According to CrowdTangle, a social media monitoring tool, just 15 public posts mentioning Robredo and Bautista's names together have been published in the last three days, with the posts coming to a peak on Tuesday, January 11.

Collectively, the posts have garnered 2,100 interactions on the social media platform.

Similar claims are beginning to appear on Twitter, though not all of them include the actual photo, while their overall reach has been negligible thus far. 

This comes days after Robredo slammed the proliferation of fake news on social media as she urged accounts creating and circulating false claims to stop their activities, saying that "such dishonesty is detrimental to the public that is already in a difficult situation."

"Who loses when that happens? It's the one who believes it that loses," she said, adding those who believe false information are the real victims, not the subjects of the disinformation.

"If we're determined that our country will be anchored on the truth, we have to work together against this," Robredo said as she urged Filipinos to fight "fake news".

 with reports from Xave Gregorio and Jonathan de Santos


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

Want to know more about our fact-checking initiative? Check our FAQs here.

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

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