By Raïssa Robles
Friday I phoned Ninez Cacho-Olivares of The Daily Tribune to ask how I was supposed to have obtained the bank documents of Chief Justice Renato Corona from a certain Gigi Sawit and handed these personally to Congressman Rey Umali. I had never met them both, I told her.
I could hear the surprise in her voice when she found out who I was. It sounded like I was the last person she expected to get a call from.
I phoned her because I wanted to get to the bottom of the banner story she had published that day — with her byline — entitled – PSBank’s Tiongson leaked CJ’s peso, dollar accounts—source. This was despite my denial the day before.
Ninez had prominently mentioned my name and the newspaper I write for in the first paragraph of her story. It said:
The claimed “small lady” who supplied the prosecution with the the envelope that had copies of the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) documents was none other than the Katipunan branch manager, Annabelle Tiongson, who had leaked this to a second “leak,” one Gigi Sawit who, in turn, gave the copies to blogger and stringer of the South China Morning Post, Raissa Robles, who then passed it on to the prosecutors, a [sic] impeachable source told the Tribune yesterday.
I figured that since I was being framed as having allegedly committed a crime, I must try to find out as much as I could. I told her as much during our conversation. I jokingly told her, was I sleep-walking perhaps, which would explain why I didn’t have any recollection of doing those things?
Yesterday I found her paper rehashed the fabrication — under the byline of someone named Charlie V. Manalo — and said it was “standing by its story.” The latest version removed my name but still described the leak as “a blogger and stringer of the South China Morning Post who called up the Tribune yesterday to state that she does not even know Gigi Sawit.”
My husband also writes for the SCMP but I don’t think he can be described as a “she”.
During our conversation, I told Ninez I was going to write about what she told me it. As we talked, I typed on my keyboard. This is how our dialogue went.
[UPDATE: Ninez has written in a rejoinder in the comments section of this post.]
When I asked how I was supposed to have done it, she replied: “I didn’t say how you did it. What I said in my story, it was this branch manager who gave it to a Gigi Sawit who then passed it on to you. I never said you passed it on to the congressman.”
“I don’t know. That’s what I was told,” she added.
Then she said:
“The senators have that inkling of where the leak is supposed to be. The branch manager, Annabelle Tiongson, is the leak. She showed the documents first to (Congressman Niel) Tupas. And then after Tupas, this. She never gave the documemnts to Tupas, I was told by the source. So they would cover their tracks. It could not have come from anybody else but the bank manager.”
“Ibinigay naman daw kay Gigi Sawit. And then I was told by my source it was passed on to you. Maybe your name cropped up. I just reported what was passed on to me by the source.”
“How did I get into the picture,” I asked.
She said: “That is what the source told me. I just reported what the source told me. I never reported you passed it on to the congressman which are two different things.”
“But you did,” I pointed out to her. “It’s in the lead of your banner story.”
She replied, “I don’t think I wrote that.”
She then took a copy of her newspaper and read out to me her first paragraph –
The claimed “small lady” who supplied the prosecution with the the envelope that had copies of the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) documents was none other than the Katipunan branch manager, Annabelle Tiongson, who had leaked this to a second “leak,” one Gigi Sawit who, in turn, gave the copies to blogger and stringer of the South China Morning Post, Raissa Robles, who then passed it on to the prosecutors, a impeachable source told the Tribune yesterday.
Then Ninez said: “That was what I was told.”
I asked her: “Was it (Francisco) Tatad who told you?” I told her I had been trying to get in touch with CJ Corona through Tatad because they’re quite close. But Tatad had refused to talk to me. [Both once worked together in Malacañang Palace for the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.]
“He’s not the one,” Ninez said.
I told Ninez about how I was wrongly named on the social networking sites Twitter and Facebook as the “Girl Friday” of Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who had leaked CJ Corona’s bank documents to the prosecution.
Ninez said – “I know who is being linked to Carpio. It’s certainly not you.”
“But I’m not the leak,” I told her.
She replied – “It’s my source who said it. This is what was told to me by my source.”
“Your source is wrong,” I told her.
“That is what the source told us,” she said.
“Us?” I asked. “Someone else was present when the source told it to you?”
“I’m the only one,” she said. And she added that she didn’t want to use the word “I” when referring to herself and so she used the word “us”.
“How did I do it?” I asked.
Ninez said – “I did not expand on it precisely because I’m not going to amplify on something that was not told me by the source.”
She asked me whether I was asking for an apology. She asked me what I wanted her to do. She also said, “I’m willing to put it out that you denied you met Gigi Sawit.”
“How did I meet her?” I asked.
“I wasn’t told how. I wasn’t told how,” she said.
“Didn’t you ask?” I said.
Ninez replied – “All I was told, it was shown to Tupas who was also a client of Tiongson, of the same bank. Ang nangyari, they covered up daw. Tupas was supposed to be Umali. they were trying to cover up. This Annabelle Tiongson did not want to be kuwan, siya ang nag-leak. She passed it on to Gigi Sawit. Frankly I don’t know who it is passed it on to you, passed it on to the prosecutor.”
She added: “Even before the documents were presented to the Senate. There were two columnists – I think (Jake) Macasaet was one. I forget the other. They were talking about this already. They have a copy. Obviously it was already floating around. I don’t know what they said.”
Out of the blue, she said her story had an error. It said “a impeachable” instead of “unimpeachable”. She said, “The proofreader made a big mistake there. It comes out as ‘a impeachable source’. It’s a stupid mistake. I’m really pissed with that.”
She excused the mistake saying, “I was rushing. I’m so stressed out.”
She started coughing.
I told her, “you sound tired.”
Ninez said: “My husband is dying of liver cancer and all that personal stuff. The family’s resigned to it anyway. I was particularly busy on that particular day the column came out.”
She said, “I’m not saying you did it or what. I’m saying that’s what the source said. I didn’t add or subtract.”
She asked me again whether I wanted Tribune to print that I had denied it.
I told her I wasn’t asking her to do that. I told her all I wanted to know was what happened.
Suddenly, she said she didn’t get my side of the story although she had my number. She had just changed phones, she said. “I just changed to an iPhone. I had to transfer everything. My contact list got lost.”
And then, out of nowhere, Ninez told me she didn’t like the group of journalists I ran around with.
I looked at the phone receiver, question marks sprouting over my head.
I asked her who that group might be. I told her my social life was practically zero. I hardly saw anyone else.
I was flummoxed when she mentioned the late Chit Estella, who had died last year in a traffic accident. She said Chit had criticized what she had written about the law firm Villaraza which lawyered for Fraport. [Fraport was the foreign partner in the construction of the new international airport terminal which until today is not fully functional because of a legal dispute with the government.] Ninez said the story was a scoop for Tribune. She said that instead of defending another journalist, Chit said Ninez should not have done that.
Ninez said: “This Chit Estella and her group even had written really worse articles than mine. More libelous. That’s what I didn’t like. Anyway she’s dead. Forget it na lang.”
She complained about the difficulties she had interviewing sources. “Normally my phones are tapped,” she said. “I’m not exactly an admin favorite.”
“It’s difficult,” she said, to be seen talking to cabinet officials because the latter would become a target of suspicion.
After our phone conversation, I thought I had made it clear with Ninez that her source was wrong in naming me as the leak. I thought she would at least go back to her source and ask for more details, supporting evidence and proof. Because that is what I would have done.
I was mistaken. Today she bannered another story which contained the following paragraph:
The Tribune’s Friday issue identified the leak as Annabelle Tiongson, the branch manager, who was the original person in the subpoena, although the president of the bank took her place instead, claiming that Tiongson was too tense and stressed to testify.
The report also stated, quoting the Tribune’s unimpeachable source as saying that the leak came from Tiongson, then passed on to one Gigi Sawit and a blogger and stringer of the South China Morning Post who called up the Tribune yesterday to state that she does not even know Gigi Sawit.
The Tribune stands by its story as told by the source.
This means, Ninez, you believe your source who lied about me.
Thank you for enlightening me, Ninez, about your “a impeachable source” in your Tribune stories.