Fact check: Story on Pink Sisters, Cory doesn't mention nuns playing mahjong

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
Fact check: Story on Pink Sisters, Cory doesn't mention nuns playing mahjong
In this December 2021 photo, students of Bacongco National High School in Koronadal City test their reading skills in English and Filipino.
DEPED Koronadal Bacongco National High School Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 4:45 p.m.) — Nuns playing mahjong? There are none in an article published in 1988 on Mother Jones, contrary to what is being made to appear by the team of the director of a film that depicts the 1986 People Power Revolution from the perspective of the Marcoses.

CLAIM: A Facebook page associated with the director claimed that Sister Christine Tan, who is said to have close ties with former President Corazon Aquino, played mahjong.

RATING: This is misleading.

FACTS: Those described to be playing mahjong in the article are actually other women, not Sister Christine.

What the post says

A post on the Facebook page VinCentiments, which identifies itself as being linked with director Darryl Yap and cinematographer Vincent Asis, claimed that a 1988 article stated that Tan played mahjong.

“Mababanggit po ang pangalan ng pinakamalapit na Madre kay President Cory [Aquino,] her name was SISTER CHRISTINE TAN, mababanggit din po dito na siya ay nagmamahjongg,” the post said.

(The name of the nun closest to President Cory Aquino is mentioned here, her name was Sister Christine Tan. It is also mentioned here that she plays mahjong.)

The claim was meant to push the narrative that Aquino and the nuns were playing mahjong as the Marcoses were about to flee the country as the dictatorship fell.

A copy of the article was attached to the post, with the words “Pink Sisters” and “mah-jongg” highlighted.

VinCentiments used the article to back up his claim that Aquino did indeed play mahjong with the nuns. 

What was left out

No less than the creator of the source material has spoken out about the narrative being pushed. 

While “Pink Sisters” and “mahjong” do appear in the story, these were never used to describe any nun playing the game.

The passage that supposedly incriminates Tan is:

“Her tranquil voice would take on a slightly chiding tone as she’d try to convince the perfumed ladies, taking the afternoon off from the mah-jongg circuit, that the breeding grounds for such misery in their country ultimately could threaten their own well-being, too.”

Here, “her” and “she” refer to Tan, while those who are “taking the afternoon off from the mah-jongg circuit” are the “perfumed ladies” whom the nun tried to engage in conversations with.

The author of the article, Anne Nelson, confirmed this in a tweet saying that, “1) she (Aquino) visited the Pink Sisters to pray; 2) she was a friend of Sister Christine Yap; 3) Christine Yap gave talks to affluent women who sometimes played mah-jongg. No mention of Aquino or Yap playing mah-jongg.”

Nelson was the author of the article published in Mother Jones' January 1988 issue.

The Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission has said that Tan “came from a family of means” in Manila before choosing to become a nun in the 1970s.

“Poverty, as practised in the convent, was not enough for her, so she chose to live among the poor. In the late 1970s, together with several Good Shepherd nuns, she opted to live and work among the poor of Malate and stayed with them for more than 26 years,” a post on the HRVVMC reads.

On its Facebook page, the HRVVMC describes itself as "the government's approach towards ensuring that the atrocities of Martial Law are never forgotten."

The commission was created by Republic Act No. 10368, the law recognizing that rights violations happened during Martial Law and that granted reparations to victims of those violations.

Essential context

VinCentiments came out with the misleading post after a scene in Yap’s movie, "Maid in Malacañang", drew criticism as it depicted Aquino and nuns playing mahjong as the Marcoses were about to flee the country as the dictatorship fell.

Sen. Imee Marcos, the presidential sister who had to flee the Palace when the family's patriarch and deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was ousted from power, has defended the film from critics who call it a work of historical revisionism. 

The Marcos family has not been shy about its goal of "clarifying" what went down during the 1986 revolution that toppled the dictator after decades of bloody rule. 

In a statement, Sr. Mary Melanie Costillas, OCD, prioress of the Cebu City-based Carmelite monastery denied that they had time to “leisurely play games” during a perilous time for the Philippines when in fact they had been “praying, fasting, and making other forms of sacrifices for peace in this country and for the people’s choice to prevail.”

“It would suggest that while the fate of the country was in peril, we could afford to leisurely play games. The truth was that we were then praying, fasting, and making other forms of sacrifices,” the Carmelites said Tuesday.

Costillas said the scene trivializes "whatever contribution we had to restore democracy."

More than that, she said, the scenes "would put into doubt the trust that the people have placed in us."

Giselle Sanchez, the actress who plays Aquino in the movie, has defended the scene and the line, saying she had been assured by Sen. Imee Marcos that "‘Yun daw ang sabi ng mga Kano (That is what the Americans told us)."

The STAR quotes Aquino daughter as saying her mom"never" played mahjong during EDSA or when she was president

Why did we fact-check this?

The misleading post has so far garnered around 7,600 reactions, 1,900 comments and 1,100 shares on Facebook.

On the same platform, there are at least 25 other posts that collectively garnered 12,374 interactions, according to Meta’s social monitoring platform CrowdTangle.

- reviewed by Franco Luna

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.

Philstar.com is also a founding partner of Tsek.ph, a collaborative fact-checking project for the 2022 Philippines’ elections. It is an initiative of academe, civil society groups and media to counter disinformation and provide the public with verified information.

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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