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Fact check: Water containers for OVP’s Angat Buhay were filters that did not use toxic materials

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Fact check: Water containers for OVPâs Angat Buhay were filters that did not use toxic materials
In this photo dated June 15, 2017, students of the UP College of Medicine and Physicians for Peace – Philippines turned over 70 units of water filters to the staff of the Office of the Vice President for the Marawi Clash Relief Operations.
Release / Physicians for Peace

MANILA, Philippines — Old photographs of Vice President Leni Robredo's donation of water filters to families affected by the Marawi conflict are resurfacing ahead of the 2022 elections, this time with a completely new narrative. Are these posts misinformation?

CLAIM: The plastic containers used to donate water under the OVP's flagship anti-poverty program Angat Buhay contained lead and other toxic materials and were unfit for donation and consumption. 

RATING: This is false

FACTS: The supposed containers are actually food-grade water filters that used no toxic materials when they were made. 

What the posts said 

Former television personality Jay Sonza made the claim in two separate posts on his personal Facebook page, first on Saturday and then again on Tuesday.

"These containers for drinking water are so nice. They're containers you put paint in. They're durable and can carry a lot, and they have lead content too. Does this actually 'raise the welfare' of people using it? My god, Leonor!" he wrote in Filipino, referring to Robredo by name. 

"I wonder if you have even drunk (sic.) water from a plastic container for a period of one year on a daily basis. Did this actually help your life? Tell us your story," his second post reads. 

Sonza did not explicitly namedrop Robredo in the second post, though the pro-administration blogger has a long and well-documented history of posting false claims against personalities in the opposition, including Robredo.

Both posts have since been taken down. 

What they left out 

The containers in the photograph were actually food-grade water filters that were deemed safe for use by the Physicians for Peace and students from the UP College of Medicine. 

The 70 water filters were turned over by the UP College of Medicine in partnership with Physicians for Peace and were not actually created by the Office of the Vice President. They were crafted as part of Project H2O, a relief program of the Service Arm of the Mu Sigma Phi from the UP College of Medicine.

Both photos used in Sonza's post were actually taken by the Physicians for Peace and used in their own press release published on their website

In a statement, the Mu Sigma Phi Fraternity slammed Sonza's statement, which it said "promotes fear-mongering and unnecessary politicking of the project." 

"Project H20 makes use of water filtration buckets that are food-grade and safe for use. No toxic materials are included in their assembly," the group said. 

The fraternity also said that Project H2O adheres to standard safety regulations in crafting its potable water filtration systems, which only include: 

  • "Environmental Protection Agency-approved Sawyer portable water filters made of hollow fiber shown to remove 99% of disease-causing bacteria and protozoa in water 
  • Brand new and standard plastic buckets which were NEVER used for any other purpose prior to their distribution during relief operations 
  • Non-toxic sticker paper for the labels"

Essential context 

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.

This is not the first time Sonza has peddled false claims against her in recent months. Earlier, his posts went viral after he accused Robredo's daughters of skipping quarantine protocols and going straight home despite testing positive for COVID-19.

FACT CHECK: Robredo’s daughter did not skip quarantine 

According to her office, the water filters were meant to be donated to the Marawi Clash Relief Operations, where the OVP's main role was transport and logistics. 

"The OVP will be in charge of bringing these filters to the families in evacuation sites in Marawi, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Tangcal, Lanao del Norte, and other towns in Lanao del Sur," the OVP said in a statement in 2017

"Families currently living in evacuation sites are unable to attain basic services and necessities, and access to safe and potable drinking water was one of the needs highlighted during the meeting."

Why did we fact-check this?

Concerned readers forwarded the posts to Philstar.com requesting to fact-check. 

Before it was taken down, Sonza's first post garnered over 3,600 reactions, 2,500 comments, and 258 shares. 

Sonza, too, has amassed a significant following on his personal profile, which has over 4,000 friends and 300,000 followers. 

"At a time where there is an ongoing health, social and economic crisis, our priority should be a united and urgent response to hasten the road to recovery," Mu Sigma Phi said. 

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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]

FACT CHECK

VICE PRESIDENT LENI ROBREDO

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