MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — Should Malacañang apologize for once dragging Hidilyn Diaz, the Philippines' first ever Olympic gold medallist, in an alleged plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte?
In 2019, then Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo presented a "matrix" of personalities, including Diaz, who were allegedly involved in an “Oust Duterte” plot. The Olympian denied this, saying she was too busy with training.
"Hindi ko po alam kung ano ‘yong sinasabi n’yong matrix, kasi sa tanggapan ko po, at iisa lang po ang opisyal na spokesperson ng gobyerno, ako lang po ‘yon. Wala po kaming gan'yan," current Palace spokesman Harry Roque said, when asked to react on the accusation.
(I do not know which matrix you are talking about because in my office, and there is only one spokesperson for government, that's me. There is nothing like that.)
Pressed on whether or not Malacañang needed to say sorry to Diaz, Roque replied, "Wala po. As spokesperson, wala po akong kahit anong binintang kay Hidilyn Diaz."
(None. As spokesperson, I did not make any allegation against Hidilyn Diaz.)
When he presented the supposed matrix in May 2019 together with Communications Secretary Martin Andanar at a press briefing in Malacañang, Panelo said the groups and personalities there were supposedly identified based on "intelligence information that has been validated."
All those tagged belied the allegation, with former Malacañang spokesman Edwin Lacierda saying "a Grade School Matrix does not an evidence make."
After Diaz denied at the time any involvement, Panelo said indeed she has nothing to do with the alleged destabilization plot, explaining that her name appeared in the "matrix" only because her social media account was being followed by a person he described as among "advocates of the Liberal Party" and whose email address was allegedly used to spread the then controversial "Bikoy" video.
During that May 10, 2019 interview, two days after he presented the "matrix", Panelo was asked if he will apologize to Diaz. He replied, "No. I think those who should apologize are those who wrongly analyzed."
Diaz on Monday won the women's 55-kilogram category for weightlifting at Tokyo 2020, after lifting a combined weight of 224 kg, an Olympic record.
The 30-year-old Philippine pride, immediately after bagging her gold medal, cited the "matrix" controversy as among the hardships she had to overcome to achieve her latest victory.
"Sa totoo lang, ang dami kong pinagdaanan. After winning in the Olympics, ang hirap mag-sustain, nagkaroon pa ng matrix, 'di ba?" Diaz said in the mixed zone in an interview with Gretchen Ho of Cignal TV. Incidentally, Ho was also tagged in the "matrix."
Diaz credited her triumph to her training, her conviction to win, and to God.
In a statement on Monday night, Panelo, serving now only as Duterte's chief legal counsel, congratulated Diaz but did not mention anything about Malacañang's previous allegation against her.
"Her feat makes us Filipinos proud. Her getting the gold is a testament to the Filipino race’s talent and indefatigable spirit," he said.
"It serves as an inspiration to all Filipino athletes that getting gold in the Olympics is no longer a dream but a reality," he added.
In another statement on Tuesday, Panelo said "when reporters noted the name of Ms. Diaz in the matrix two years ago and hastily concluded that the government is declaring her to be part of an ouster plot against the President, I immediately issued a statement averring otherwise."
"I explained that the name of Ms. Diaz was shown in the diagram as she was being followed in social media by a certain Rodel Jayme who was connected to the uploading of the video titled, 'Ang Totoong Narco List', with the sole purpose of revealing to the public the interests, personality and disposition of the latter online," he said.
He also slammed a social media card bearing what he says is false information. "I never said that Ms. Diaz is not entitled to drugs just because she is a sports medalist. Neither did I aver that she was part of a drug list."
"It is truly disheartening that there are people who seek to take the limelight out of Ms. Diaz's recent triumph and convert it into a political skirmish of who should and should not celebrate our country's win," Panelo said.
"As for me, I can only admire Ms. Diaz and sincerely congratulate her who, together with our other athletes in Tokyo, continues to make us proud," he added.
Roque, the incumbent Palace spokesman, said: "Iuukit po natin sa kasaysayan ng Pilipinas ang pangalan ng Hidilyn Diaz."
(We will carve the name of Hidilyn Diaz in Philippine history.)
- with report from Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News