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De Lima seeks inquiry on use of public funds to hire ‘troll armies’

A Senate inquiry on the alleged use of state coffers to fund troll armies of the Duterte administration is being sought by Senator Leila De Lima.

She filed P.S. Resolution No. 401 directing the appropriate Senate panel to conduct an investigation on the existence of troll farms supposedly organized to "parrot political propaganda" and manipulate public discourse in the Philippines.

"It is against the interests of our country to fund online trolls who manipulate online discussions on national issues for political ends. These funds are better spent on education, alleviating poverty and improving our healthcare system," De Lima, a staunch critic of the administration, said in a statement on Friday.

Citing Belgium-based press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, the senator said the government has been reported to be operating "call center hubs" that are peddling fake news to launch targeted harassment campaigns.

Also mentioned in the resolution was a study of the University of Oxford which was published in July 2017. It claims that President Rodrigo Duterte spent $200,000 or around P10 million to hire online trolls to boost the image of the administration and attack those in the opposition.

Another report from US-based human rights group Freedom House, cited by De Lima, claims that the government has been paying at least P500 per day to members of the "keyboard army" with the mission to praise Duterte and attack his detractors.

"It is imperative for Congress to verify the integrity of these reports and probe if any appropriated government funds are used to maintain and pay online trolls by various bloggers and social media personalities with their capacity as appointed officials in various government agencies or by the President himself under various discretionary budgets under his office," De Lima said.

She warned that manipulation of public opinion is "detrimental" to the country's democracy. —LDF, GMA News