An article of a recently-created Canada-based website was called out for claiming that President Rodrigo Duterte supposedly contracted COVID-19.
The article was published on August 19 on Toronto Today and was filed under its “Open Conspiracy File” section.
Titled “EXCLUSIVE: Duterte has COVID, went to Singapore for treatment,” it claimed that there was “tip-off” Duterte flew to the city-state and was seen by “multiple people.”
It included a tweet of an online user who claimed that it was “confirmed” the president went to a “hospital in Singapore.”
“Duterte has stated to those in his circle, that he doesn’t trust Filipino doctors, and felt the Singapore Health Care system was better suited,” the article claimed.
It added that multiple people also claimed the photo of Duterte released by his former aide, Sen. Bong Go, is “outdated and likely photoshopped.”
“It is unclear what treatment he received in Singapore, but he has returned recently to the Philippines,” the article concluded.
The article included a disclaimer stressing that the piece was labeled under the “Conspiracy File” section “and does not necessarily reflect the views of Toronto Today.”
It was called out by Filipino Twitter user @MiaMagdalena who noted that the social media user who initially tweeted that Duterte was in a “hospital in Singapore” had already apologized for the false information.
She took screenshots of the online user’s apology, part of it which reads:
“I have to [apologize] to everyone for posting a recent FAKE news about Duterte was taken to Singapore. It was careless on my part.”
“Hearsay. That’s why I called you out. And your journalist’s name is Red Panther? Sure,” online user @MiaMagdalena told the publisher.
Toronto Today, your sources are a tweet from a private citizen who eventually apologized for the unfounded news and a “high official” who claims the president is in Singapore. Hearsay. That’s why I called you out. And your journalist’s name is Red Panther? Sure. pic.twitter.com/od9FRarGJN
— Miss Maggie (@MiaMagdalena) August 24, 2020
The website updated its article and defended that a similar claim was also “posted in This Week in Asia.”
However, the article in This Week In Asia, which is published under South China Morning Post, eventually included responses of Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto and Go, who also released a video showing that Duterte was in Davao and not in Singapore.
It also included an explanation on why Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. appeared emotional on a particular video, which fueled the rumors that Duterte was supposedly “in extremis.”
Closer look at the website
Toronto Today is a website created in 2020 which was founded by Mark Slapinski.
Its “About Us” section does not list the editorial staff behind the website but it describes itself as a website that tells what is “biased,” supposedly unlike “corporate media.”
“Working class, Indigenous, and African-Canadian people are underserved by the media. Let’s change that. Those in positions of authority and those that work in the mainstream media need to stop lying. Until then, you have Toronto Today,” it said.
The website’s “Conspiracy Files” section refers to “information collected from unverified sources.”
Days after the article on Duterte supposedly contracting COVID-19 was published, Toronto Today on August 22 released a “rating system” that ranked articles under the “Conspiracy Files” section “to provide greater transparency.”
The article about Duterte was tagged as an “Open Conspiracy File” which means there is “not enough information to make a decision on the veracity of the sources.”
Toronto Today also explained that it publishes such pieces because “the mainstream media shys [shies] away from publishing these types of articles.”
“We feel readers should have the option of reading them if they want to. Unlike other publishers, we will go back and correct information if we receive proof that it is inaccurate,” the online publication said.
“This allows readers to make better decisions, as there are many different angles to a story. Importantly, a ‘conspiracy file’ is not false by default. Many times the word on the street is the truth, but not officially verified,” it added.
Go last week denied rumors that Duterte flew to Singapore to supposedly seek medical treatment. He released a picture and went live on Facebook as proof that the latter is doing well and is in Davao City, his hometown.
“Sa mga nagpapakalat ng fake news, makonsensya naman kayo. Ang Pangulo ay nasa Pilipinas lamang at handang mag-serbisyo sa kapwa Pilipino!” he said.
Col. Jesus Durante III, commander of the Presidential Security Group, likewise confirmed to ABS-CBN that they were currently in Davao that time.
Last week, the speculations on the “Singapore flight” circulated online via private chat groups. It intensified after presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that the chief executive is in “perpetual isolation.”
He made the remark when asked for updates on the president who became in contact with Interior Secretary Eduardo Año during a recent meeting in Davao City. Año last week announced that he tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time.
“I guess my answer is he’s in perpetual isolation in the sense that PSG has done a very good job in making sure that no one really comes close to the President,” Roque said in a Palace press briefing on August 13.
He added that Duterte also regularly undergoes a real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test to check if the latter has contracted COVID-19.
On Monday, August 24, Roque apologized for this remark and said it was a case of wrong choice of words. He stressed that the PSG is ensuring that there is social distancing measures between anyone who talks to the president.
— Alexis B. Romero (@alexisbromero) August 24, 2020
At 75, Duterte has underlying medical conditions and is currently considered a high-risk or someone who is vulnerable to the viral disease.
VERA Files reported that the president has previously admitted he has myasthenia gravis, buerger’s disease, and barrett’s esophagus, which a New York-based physician noted may be considered “serious” altogether.
The fact-checking organization added that Duterte has likewise previously admitted to “having been suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and daily migraines and spinal issues.”
There are no verified reports of the president testing positive for COVID-19, as of writing.