May 10, 2019

The Bikoy Saga: Will Gretchen Ho dare to bite the American hand that fed her?

Are Gretchen Ho and Hidilyn Diaz as innocent as innocent goes?
UPDATE 1: Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on 10 May 2019 exculpated Hidilyn Diaz and Gretchen Ho from the supposed destabilization plot. Despite this development, the data provided in this article, along with the ensuing analysis, still stand.
UPDATE 2:  I wrote this article because my research showed that prior to the first update (see abov), I felt that I may still give Panelo and Andanar the benefit of the doubt. Panelo's latest announcement, however, made that unncessary. Given the colossal incompetence that PCOO and OPS displayed these past few days, I am seriously considering starting an online petition requesting President Duterte to fire key people in his Strategic Communications team. 
UPDATE 3: Online petition "PRRD, please fire your Strategic Communications people." has been published. If you want to read or sign the petition, CLICK HERE.

In a Malacañang press briefing held earlier this week, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo showed to media a matrix containing names of personalities allegedly involved in a destabilization plot against the Philippine Government.

Among the names in the matrix were those of ABS-CBN anchor Gretchen Ho and Olympic weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz.

I admit that I was surprised to find their names on the matrices and I cannot help but be frustrated by the fact that the PCOO and OPS released so many names without providing any significant substantiation for the allegations.

But then, we already know that PCOO’s Strategic Communications and Social Media teams have continuously demonstrated mind-numbing incompetence since President Duterte, so that’s not news.

Senator Ping Lacson’s 09 May 2019 tweet perfectly encapsulates my sentiments of that day:
“Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz has brought honor to the country while journalist Gretchen Ho has carved out a name for herself in her field, both through discipline and hard work. Their inclusion in the matrix either involved excellent intelligence work or Bikoy had infiltrated NSA.”

What’s news, however, is that thing about Diaz and that Ho.

Diaz and that Ho react to Panelo

In response to Panelo’s matrix, Gretchen Ho on 08 May 2019 tweeted:
“So ano ba talaga? 😅 Am I trying to OUST or SUPPORT the government?”
Attached to her tweet were screenshots of the Panelo’s destabilization plot matrix and a photo with the president taken recently in Malacañang.

Miss Ho, let me remind you that the invitation only mentioned "celebrities" and nowhere was it stated that only "pro-Duterte" were invited.

Meanwhile, Hidilyn Diaz in an interview with ABS-CBN News said:
“Sino si Rodel Jayme? Hahaha di ko po kilala. Lol nakakatawa naman”
Given these, it’s safe to say that the overarching theme of their respective responses is that both women have nothing to do about anything even remotely associated with destabilizing the Duterte Administration.

Even I, at first, was inclined to agree, as Spox Panelo himself cannot explain why the two sportswomen were included in the matrix.

With that said, I decided to check if these two are as innocent as innocent goes.

First, let’s check Hidilyn Diaz

Hidilyn Diaz is best known for winning a silver medal in weightlifting during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As far as I can recall, she rarely talks about politics as she mostly spends her time in training sessions and international competitions.

Earlier today, however, a Thinking Pinoy follower emailed me a photo of Hidilyn wearing a Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation (Yellow Boat) t-shirt which, I admit, roused my curiosity over Hidilyn’s potential involvement in the foundation.

Diaz (middle) wearing a Yellow Boat t-shirt. To her right and wearing jeans is Yellow Boat Founder Anton Lim.
According to a 25 August 2018 Yellow Boat blog post [Archived]:
“Congratulations to our Hope Paddler, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz for winning the Philippines first gold in the 2018 Asian Games! We are very proud of your feat!”
As it turns out, Hidilyn is part of Yellow Boat.

As extensively discussed in the 07 May 2019 ThinkingPinoy article “NBI Cybercrime, you may have missed this BIGGER Bikoy-linked fake news website”, Yellow Boat is linked to the fake news Facebook page Now You Know (NYK), one of the pages who helped the most in spreading the black propaganda video series “Ang Totoong Narco List”.

n that article, I showed that NYK shares a small office with Yellow Boat Foundation, with NYK’s site administrator Jerry Mae Maghinay – who was also mentioned in Panelos Matrix – also working for Yellow Boat.

In short, Hidilyn is a part of an organization with credible links to alleged destabilizer social media organization NYK.

Hidilyn Diaz may be truthful in her not knowing who Rodel Jayme is, but she sure knows people who enabled the proliferation of a scurrilous libel against the State.

What we see here is that contrary to what is being painted in most media outlets today, Hidilyn is not totally unrelated to personalities who are strongly involved the Bikoy Videos.

However, as to whether she knowingly participated in any destabilization attempt, is still up to Panelo and Andanar to prove.

That's not my problem: that's PCOO's.

Second, let’s check Gretchen Ho

Gretchen Ho rose to fame when she became a member of the Ateneo de Manila University varsity volleyball team and eventually, a host and reporter for ABS-CBN News.

Gretchen Ho is a known critic of the administration, but simply criticizing the Duterte Administration is not enough to show complicity in any significant destabilization attempt. I, for myself, criticize the Administration a lot, especially its incompetent officials in the PCOO.

A little background check on Gretchen, however, reveals a major conflict of interest.

In a 22 November 2018 instagram post, the United States Embassy in Manila announced:
“TV host and #HappiNews Ambassador @gretchenho is traveling to the United States for the #IVLP Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists on Media Responsibility in an Age of Disinformation. #USPHexchanges70”

US Embassy Manila's Instagram 22 November 2018 post announcing the grant awarded to Gretchen Ho.

The Edward R. Murrow Program

Given that the President’s independent foreign policy clashes directly with US interests, the fact that the State Department funds the exchange program is a red flag in itself.

In an August 2018 Philippine Star report, President Duterte reiterated his accusation that the United States, particularly its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is monitoring his mobile phone conversations, insinuating that the agency might plot to kill him.

But of course, assassinations are messy, so why not death by a thousand miniature cuts?

And with each cut being an anti-Duterte journalist who regularly spews an anti-Duterte content?

Now, according the United States Department of State website [Archived]:
“Each year, the U.S. Department of State's Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists brings more than 100 emerging international journalists from around the world to examine journalistic practices in the United States. The Murrow program is an innovative public-private partnership between the Department of State, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and several leading U.S. schools of journalism. The program usually occurs in October-November of each year.”
What makes matters worse, however, is that the US State Department administers the program in partnership with the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which receives funding from CIA-linked and State Department-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

NED’s CIA links have been extensively discussed in the 29 April 2019 ThinkingPinoy article “How much has Vera Files, PCIJ, Rappler, CMFR received from CIA offshoot?”.

Let me state this simply:
Gretchen Ho benefitted from the same CIA-linked organization that funds Vera Files, PCIJ, Rappler and CMFR.
To hammer the point home, let me quote the State Department’s official description of the application process for the Edward Murrow Program:
"There is no application for the Edward R. Murrow Program. Participants are nominated and selected annually by the staff at U.S. Embassies around the world based on their journalistic accomplishments and potential to advance relationships between their country and the United States.
Judging from this, the United States sees Gretchen Ho as someone who can “potentially advance relationships between [the Philippines] and the United States”, which, as many would likely agree, is a more diplomatic way of saying Ho can advance US interest in the Philippines.

Duterte is at odds with the United States and there’s no sign of Philippine Foreign Policy returning to its historically very pro-US stance… but we all know that Philippine Foreign Policy may change when the Duterte administration is replaced.

Now let me ask the following questions:
  • In that light and as a journalist who likes to believe that she sways Public Opinion, what exactly can Gretchen do to advance US interests in the Philippines?
  • More specifically, what exactly does the United States expect Gretchen Ho to do after it gave her a prestigious scholarship grant?
  • Will Gretchen Ho ever support Duterte’s Independent Foreign Policy despite the Americans expecting her to support American interests? 
  • Is Gretchen Ho willing to forsake any future US grants similar to the one she received last year?
  • Simply put, will Gretchen Ho even dare to bite the hand that fed her?
Surely, a supposedly legit journalist like Gretchen Ho must have made herself aware of the expectations associated with receiving US State Department grant.

What's the point of all these?

I am not saying that Gretchen Ho and Hidilyn Diaz have any significantly active participation in any destabilization plot. However, the findings in the previous sections show that these two’s inclusion in the matrix may not have come totally out of left field.

I am in no way disapproving of foreign grants to Filipino citizens, but when the foreign power has CORE INTERESTS that directly clash with those of the Filipino People, then I have a problem with that.

Likewise, I am in no way disapproving of being part of charitable organizations, but when there’s credible evidence showing that the charitable organization is heavily linked with a destabilizer, then I have a problem with that.

Suffice it to say, it is still up to the PCOO Sec. Martin Andanar and Presidential Spokesperson Sal Panel to fully substantiate their myriad claims during the fateful press briefing.

But to say that Hidilyn Diaz’s and Gretchen Ho’s inclusion in the matrix is totally unfounded, that the two are as pure as snow, is just like Esquire calling Maria Ressa the “Sexiest Woman Alive” in 2010.

Let me say this in plain Taglish:
Kahit ako man ay nagulat nang mapangalanan sina Diaz at Ho, pero takang-taka ako na ang portrayal sa kanila ng media ay tila wala silang kahit anong bahid ng koneksiyon sa kahit sinong involved sa matrix, samantalang malinaw na mayroon. Hindi ko sinasabing may kinalaman sila sa destabilization plot, pero hindi ko matanggap, batay sa publicly available data, na walang-wala silang kahit anong koneksiyon sa kahit kanino.


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