CROSSING party lines, senators on Wednesday reminded bloggers who have joined the Duterte administration to be “circumspect” in what they post on social media as they are bound by government rules.
In an inquiry on the proliferation of supposed “fake news” online, the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media also failed to get hold of Cocoy Dayao, an information technology (IT) consultant accused of maintaining several anti-Duterte blogs.
The inquiry was triggered by an article on the “Silent No More PH” blog critical of seven senators for not signing a Senate resolution condemning extra-judicial killings.
The blog described Senators Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd, Vicente Sotto 3rd, Richard Gordon, Emmanuel Pacquiao, Gregorio Honasan 2nd, Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Cynthia Villar as Malacañang “dogs” for refusing to sign Resolution 516 denouncing summary killings.
Dayao was outed last week by pro-Duterte bloggers such as The Manila Times columnist Sass Sassot and Rey Joseph “RJ” Nieto, who owns the “Thinking Pinoy” blog.
The bloggers claimed Dayao owned the Google Adsense account used by anti-Duterte blogs Madam Claudia, Silent No More and Pinoy Ako Blog, among others, to earn online ad revenues.
Dayao also supposedly put up the website of Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who initiated the resolution, and is associated with Niña Terol Zialcita, who ran new media operations for the Liberal Party in the 2010 elections.
The inquiry however quickly turned into a debate over “fake news” and a venue for senators to get back at their online critics.
‘Right to refuse’
Pro-Duterte blogger Mocha Uson, Palace communications assistant secretary, took the opportunity to hit TV networks GMA and ABS-CBN for reporting that she took a “selfie” inside the Grand Mosque in Marawi City during a visit by President Rodrigo Duterte. The networks, she said, did not get her side of the story.
Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th confronted Uson for demanding fairness when she herself did not get the side of opposition figures in her blog.
“In all the blogs you wrote about us, how many times did you get our side?” Aquino asked.
Uson replied: “With all due respect, your honor, I am a blogger, not a journalist.”
She also refused to answer Aquino’s question with a “yes” or “no” and elicited chuckles when she said “I have the right to refuse.”
When told by Aquino that there was no such right, Uson said: “I invoke the right to self discri, er, incrimination.”
Palace Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco defended the bloggers, saying they did not lose their freedom of speech when they joined government.
Uson said she was merely “exercising” her freedom of speech while Nieto stressed that he was a “political opinion writer.”
“I like imagining scenarios. It’s not a crime to hurt feelings,” Nieto said.
‘Blog or quit govt’
Senators Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Nancy Binay and Antonio Trillanes 4th reminded Uson and Nieto, a consultant at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), to tone down the political views posted on their blogs or social media accounts.
Uson, who maintains the popular Mocha Uson Blog, earns over P120,000 a month as a Palace communications official while Nieto receives P12,000 monthly as DFA consultant for overseas Filipino workers’ affairs.
“When you receive salary from taxpayers, you’re no longer different from government officials and employees,” Poe, the committee chairwoman, said.
“Therefore, you should be more circumspect and should therefore exercise prudence in sharing articles that instigate division among the populace,” she added.
Poe told the bloggers they were already bound by the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials nd Employees, or Republic Act 6713.
Pangilinan agreed that bloggers working for the government must also be covered by ethical standards for public servants.
“Earning taxpayers money will make you part of government bureaucracy and covered by the laws, just as we senators are covered by the laws. Free speech is not absolute,” he said.
Binay told Uson it would be difficult to split her official and personal activities.
“It’s high time you decide whether you want to become a blogger or an asec (assistant secretary),” she said.
Poe also said there should be accountability on the part of bloggers and online writers. “Let us not forget the sacrifice of mainstream journalists that have to be accountable and have to really collect materials,” she said.
Ex-solicitor general Florin Hilbay said it was the obligation of the state to correct “distortion” in the marketplace of ideas.
He urged Congress to pass a law forming an “institute of information” to be headed by an ombudsman for public information or an “information police” that would check abuses committed by government officials in terms of spreading “fake news.”
Hilbay said the information police should not be appointed by the President. It should be composed of academics, media workers, policy makers, scientists, and IT of the “highest credibility.”
“We will consider the creation of a new government institute to check the integrity of government information and police the accuracy of information, if we think it is tenable because we don’t want again to add to bureaucracy unless we really need it,” Poe said.