Rappler said the Department of Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial singled them out after “denying her own information” about the death of 59 Marawi evacuees despite the fact that other media organizations also reported the same figure.
Ubial released a statement posted by DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo specifically naming Rappler for “intentionally” giving incorrect information.
Her statement read: “The information of Rappler of 59 deaths in Evacuation Centers in Marawi is wrong! Totally and intentionally gave wrong numbers! We reviewed video I clearly said no deaths in Evacuation Centers! There were 19 deaths in hospitals where bakwits were referred but deaths were due to pre-existing health conditions such as cancer”
Rappler’s report on June 16 quoting Ubial about the 59 deaths was based on what Ubial said during a forum in Legazpi City, Albay on June 15, where she said that 40 people died of dehydration out of the evacuation centers while 19 previously hospitalized patients died in the evacuation centers where their health conditions were said to have been aggravated.
This was part of Rappler’s report about the 59 deaths.
“There are 40 cases of deaths due to dehydration,” Ubial said in Filipino. These were residents who had fled Marawi and are staying in temporary shelters being monitored by health workers.
She said 19 other deaths occured in government-run evacuation centers, but these were people who already had health conditions, which “living in congested evacuation centers” aggravated.
“These patients with health conditions, [who were]…previously confined in hospitals but opted to stay at evacuation centers, succumbed to death in the evacuation camps due to aggravating conditions,” she said.
Rappler added that they referred to their Bicol correspondent Rhaydz Barcia’s recording of the Q&A session with Ubial after it was translated from Filipino. They noted that the same numbers and direct quotes were also cited by the Manila Times, Inquirer, and even the state-run Philippines News Agency (PNA), although PNA later took down its post.
Ubial said that she saw the video recording of the forum and “clearly said” that there were “no deaths in Evacuation Centers.”
Rappler also reported that when their attention was called at 4pm on June 16 by a DOH media officer about their “wrong” numbers, they requested the officer to send them a written clarification from Ubial that they could report about. However, they did not receive any statement, until Ubial and other people associated with her office sent text messages to various channels, pinpointing Rappler for reporting the misinformation.
On Monday, June 19, Ubial told radio DZMM that the writer of the report misheard her numbers during a chance interview last June 15.
“Nagtanong po ang mga taga-media kung ilan na po ang casualty o deaths sa ating mga evacuation center. Sinabi ko po na 19, one-nine. Tapos may isang taga-media, di ko na po sasabihin kung sino, nagtanong ‘Ma’am, may nababalita pong apat na namatay dahil sa dehydration,'” Ubial said.
“Sabi ko, ‘Opo, may apat na po.’ Akala niya, apatnapu. So idinagdag iyung 40 at 19, naging 59. Pero hindi po nanggaling sa akin ang apatnapu.”
She also gave an update about how the death tool has reached 24 as of June 18. She also clarified that most of the fatalities died of “pre-existing conditions” like kidney ailment and cancer and that they died at hospitals, not in the evacuation centers.
“Mayroon po kasing standing order ang ating mga health personnel na pag may sakit na ay huwag nang hihintayin na lumala at idiretso na agad sa mga ospital,” she said.