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Roque reiterates gov’t employees should not be singled out for fake news

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque reiterated Thursday his opposition to singling out and punishing government employees who spread fake news.

“It is infringing on equal protection when you are singling out government employees. There is no basis for singling out government employees because the law should apply to all not just to government employees,” Roque said during the Senate hearing on fake news.

He added that determining fake news should be left to the people.

“We must protect the free marketplace of ideas. It is the public who should decide on whether it is news or fake news,” he said.

Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Committee on Public Information and Mass Media, said government officials and employees should be held to a higher standard.

“There are certain things we are accountable for as part of the government. There is so much expected of us because we waived that certain right because we are serving the people,” she said.

Poe told Roque that she is not fighting with him as they, most of the time, have been on the same side of the fence.

“Ang inaalagaan natin ay kinabukasan ng bansa. ‘Yung batas na makakatulong sa bayan ang mananaig,” he said.

Journalist and blogger Inday Espina-Varona said she also does not want legislation against government personnel but she wanted them to be accountable to the code of conduct.

She cited the instance when Duterte supporters Peter Laviña and Mocha Uson posted a story of a young girl who was raped and brutally murdered to denigrate human rights advocates who oppose the government’s war on illegal drugs.

“Ginamit nila ang picture ng bata but that child is not even from the Philippines. That child is from Brazil. Even the supporters of the President asked Laviña to take it down. The law is clear they cannot separate their Facebook accounts from their duties because they are not supposed to follow one standard in office and another outside,” she said.

She said Laviña did not issue an apology while Uson defended herself, saying she is not a journalist but a blogger so she does not need to vet the information.

“When we get these message from government officials, it encourages the spread of lies. It also comes with secondary campaign of harassing people who oppose them,” she said.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar said he can no longer speak for Laviña because he is no longer part of the government. But he said that all the materials that come out of the official news platform of the government are good and not fake news.

PCOO Assistant Secretary Ana Maria Banaag said they make sure that everything that goes out of the organization are vetted.

She said they are now working with the Department of Information and Communications Technology for the policy on social media for all government employees and officials.

“As to Ms. Mocha Uson, if she says something that would malign any people officially then they can file a case against her,” she said.

Banaag added that the PCOO opted not to give a definite definition of fake news because they have reservations in having state level regulation that could counter freedom of speech.

“With that said, in our attempt to create or find precise definition of fake news, we must also consider the specific problems or harm fake news is doing to undermine our capacity to participate in rational discourse,” she said. —KG, GMA News