MANILA – Is it time to shut down the “private” blog of Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, whose controversial posts have spawned reactions among taxpayers who ask why they should subsidize her at all by paying her big salary as a Palace official?
The question was raised Tuesday by Sen. Grace Poe as she presided at the second “fake news” hearing of her Committee on Public Information, where Uson – said to command a following of 5 million – was absent but nonetheless became focus of much attention.
In the first hearing, Uson was pointedly asked by senators whether or not she should just resign if she wanted to continue exercising her “freedom of expression” as a private blogger.
The task of responding to questions involving his subordinate fell to PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar when the second hearing unreeled on Tuesday.
“As communications assistant secretary it’s very hard to separate her [Uson’s] own personal opinion from that of PCOO. Have you every considered that since her own private blog is a way of communicating and overlappying with government function and using government time to fullfill work on her blog, have you ever consiered conflict of interest and perhaps it should be shut down?” Poe asked Andanar at one point in the hearing.
Andanar explained that he had on several times talked to and called out Uson on this issue of how her public position is in conflict with her freedom of expression and manner of speaking on Facebook.
According to Andanar, Uson has on several occasions taken down some of her controversial posts.
Poe said they are not singling out Uson, but stressed that people holding sensitive positions at the Palace like PCOO should be held accountable for their erroneous posts.
Poe wondered aloud if particular penalties are set for their erring officials for their social media posts.
NO VETTING OF MOCHA’S POSTS
Meanwhile, PCOO Undersecretary Marie Banaag said it is clear to Uson that there are no exemptions to the PCOO rules and guidelines on postings. She said Uson had repeatedly promised to be more careful in her posts.
In the view of Poe, the situation is abetted by the fact that Andanar’s office does not do prior vetting of Uson’s posts – because these are “personal.”
Andanar admitted that Uson’s blog posts don’t go to him for prior review, but there are instances where he tells her to take down some posts especially if his attention is called by people who feel aggrieved by erroneous posts.
According to Andanar, when Uson joined the PCOO, it was clear to both of them that she will handle certain platforms of the department, including the PCOO’s Presidential Communications FB page and Twitter account.
Andanar said he also made it clear that all posts on these platforms should be real news and not fake news, or deceptive information or outright lies.
He said they opened two programs for Uson to handle as well: the DDS podcast and the Duterte Good News. These are now being produced by the RTVM.
Andanar stressed that none of these segments that Uson does for the Executive Department has ever been attended by controversy.
All controversies associated with Uson arise from her personal blog, which claims 5 million followers, but, he stressed, her blog does not reflect the PCOO.
Sen. Bam Aquino disputed this, saying Uson’s blog is a reflection of PCOO.
He cited as example Uson’s act of assailing – and spreading fake news on – a good measure like the proposed Zero Food Waste Act.
Aquino stressed that Uson does not lose her accountability when she writes her private blog. He said it is the duty of the PCOO leadership to ensure all comments from its responsible officers are correct and fair, regardless of where they appear, and that no PCOO employee is ever involved in
Poe supported this notion, adding that in the Senate, she, for example, makes sure to call out or discipline any of her staff who may have been involved in spreading disinformation or posting anything unfair or falling below acceptable standards of civility.
‘PRIVATE BLOG REFLECTS ON PCOO’
Poe stressed that being an assistant secretary, Uson’s personal opinions cannot be separated from the rest of the output of the PCOO. Thus, she asked Andanar, given the apparent conflict of interest between Uson’s blog and her work at the Palace, is it time to shut down her blog?
Aquino noted that much of the disinformation and hate speech now seen on the internet comes from websites of Duterte supporters.
She suggested that those behind the pro-Duterte blogs should be made to undergo orientation against spouting misinformation and hate speech.
For that, Andanar said he will tap some of the members of the communications group of the President during the 2016 campaign, and ask them for help, since he was not involved in the Duterte campaign, having been a fulltime media practitioner at that time.
Meanwhile, web administrator Cocoy Dayao, who is being pointed to as the one behind the “silentnomore PH” blog that some senators complained against for spreading fake news against them, was again a no-show.
This prompted Sen. Manny Pacquiao to move for the issuance of a subpoena by the Senate against Dayao.
Earlier, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa unveiled the highlights of their analysis of the algorithms behind how fake news spreads on social media.
They tracked certain accounts, and determined that one fake account was responsible for at least 3 million posts.
Ressa said most of these fake accounts thrived after Duterte won as President in 2016.