REPORT IN FOCUS by Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – A certain “politician” purportedly opposed to calls for an extension in the transitional operation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) governance was allegedly behind the series of published paid news stories discrediting the interim regional leadership.
At least two stories had already come out last June and July in the online Inq.net news channel, which published the “paid” articles as “advertorials” and used the photo of Senator Imee Marcos and her photo to make it appear she was instigating a Senate probe on the interim BARMM operations.
The first story was attributed to an alleged complaint from one Jannah Vilegas of a group called Malayang Lipunan Movement (MLM). It alleged an instance of bloated allocations for purchases of supplies allegedly amounting to P6 billion from the BARMM budget in 2020.
The first article prompted BARMM spokesman Naguib Sinarimbo to call for a press conference and vehemently deny the allegation. Sinarimbo spent several minutes clarifying that supply purchases did not reach such an amount and that all processes involved in procurements passed through prudent watch by auditors and officials pursuing the BARMM administration’s campaign for “moral governance.”
Verifications by members of the Bangsamoro Press Corps showed that Jannah Vilegas, who was using many aliases including Ice Autida, had been wanted by authorities for alleged extortion-type of media practice victimizing mayors in Maguindanao. About two weeks after the publication attributed to her, Vilegas posted a message on Facebook and apologized about it.
The Bangsamoro Information Office (BIO), the BARMM’s official media body, and the Bangsamoro Press Corps, an independent group of private journalists, staged separate verifications after another “advertorial” or paid story came in the Inq.net channel last week.
The second story was attributed to a certain Aio Bautista of a group called Transform PH Alliance (TPA) as a source in the article claiming some alleged irregular implementation of multi-million peso infrastructure projects in BARMM areas, notably Maguindanao.
Just like the MLM and Jannah Vilegas, verifications discovered the TPA and Aio Bautista to be bogus.
BIO Director Andrew Alonto and the regional press corps reached out to Ryan Rosauro, the Mindanao Bureau chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), which was believed to be the mother unit of the Inq.net.
Director Alonto came up with a reaction story, but said his piece could not be accommodated.
He said he was prompted to link up with the billing section of the PDI, particularly that of the In.net. He said he learned from the section that the “advertorials” were paid by a “politician,” whose name was not given, Alonto said.
Rosauro told the Philippine Muslim Today news that the Inq.net was “for sale.” Subsequent verification showed that the “domain” of the Inq.net” was indeed “for sale.”
BARMM officials have reportedly exerted efforts to unearth the identity of the “politician” in prelude to filing a legal suit.
The regional efforts came amid rumors that political camps were allegedly bankrolling efforts opposed to the passage of a Congressional bill for the deferment of the 2022 BARMM parliament election and an extension in the lifespan of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the regional government’s interim ruling body, to 2025. (AGM)