By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Are you a blogger or a public official?
This was the question faced by Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Margaux “Mocha” Uson as she faced the Senate committee on public information and mass media’s inquiry on the proliferation of fake news and misinformation Wednesday.
The performer-turned-government-official faced the grilling of senators over her viral Facebook posts which were deemed as vocal in support for the administration, and critical against its oppositors.
“It’s high time for you to decide kung gusto mong maging ASec. o gusto mong maging blogger,” Senator Nancy Binay told Uson.
Binay had earlier called out Uson for spreading fake news. During the deliberation of the PCOO’s 2018 budget last month, senators pressed on PCOO Secretary Martin Anadanar to act on fake news. Uson was absent in the hearing as she attended the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
“How can you fight fake news kung may instances na nanggagaling mismo sa isang Asec. yung fake news?” Binay was quoted telling Andanar last September 20.
Uson, a known Duterte supporter, had been under fire for her social media posts in her “Mocha Uson Blog.” In one instance, she was caught sharing last May a photo of kneeling Honduras police while asking prayers for soldiers in Marawi City. She later claimed the picture as “symbolism.”
She also shared a “fake news” published in the state-owned Philippine News Agency about the 95 member-states of the UN dismissing the existence of extra-judicial killings, or EJKs, in the country.
At the height of the death of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in August, the PCOO official posted a news article on the death of a policeman which, she claimed, was ignored by opposition, asking “when will they visit” the slain cop. The news article, it turned out, was a revival of a picture published.
Just most recently, she was charged by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV before the Ombudsman for sharing photos of the documents allegedly containing details of his offshore bank accounts.
Uson, in defense, said she was only “exercising her right to free speech” as a “blogger.”
Uson added she was “not aware that the freedom to expression should be compromised” when she became a public official.
But Binay, in Wednesday’s hearing, said Uson “cannot anymore separate” her being a blogger to being a public official, especially of the government’s communications arm.
“We are bound by RA (Republic Act) 6173…We cannot use that excuse at this point in time,” Binay told Uson.
RA 6173, or the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees,” sets the standards that should be observed by elected and appointed government officials.
Officials of the PCOO again denied control over the blogs of Secretary Uson for social media and their connections to Uson’s blogs.
“Mocha’s blog is personal to her…she is liable for whatever contents are in her blog,” said Assistant Secretary Ana Maria-Banaag, who also appeared in the hearing.
Undersecretary Joel Egco told senators, “For as long she is not using the government website, she can exercise her right to expression.”
Uson, as assistant secretary for social media, handles the PCOO’s social media accounts to aid in disseminating information on the government’s campaigns and programs.
Egco, however, was not able to clarify Uson’s limitations as what to post in her personal blog. He admitted that the PCOO has not cited Uson for her controversial posts.
Banaag said her office have yet to accept as policy Andanar’s earlier pronouncements that bloggers would be regulated and should follow the code of ethics as observed by mainstream journalists.
Sen. Grace Poe, chairperson of the public information committee, urged the PCOO to act promptly on Uson’s statements.
“They (PCOO) should say, ‘You can promote the policies of the government for as along as it’s based on facts…We need cheerleaders in the government. But you should only stick to the truth and not embellish it,” Poe said.
But Poe maintained her personal position that a public official should avoid having a personal blog, especially “if you are in the communications office of the government.”
“Mahirap balansahin ang personal sa opisyal. Kaya siguro dapat iwasan na magakaroon ng isang personal blog. Isang sakripisyo mo yan sa pagpasok mo sa gobyerno,” she noted.
Asked about what the PCOO should do about Uson, Poe said: “Well, she’s under the purview of the PCOO. Secretary Andanar should definitely reiterate what her responsibilities are, and if need be, should definitely call his staff’s attention.”
Tags: Assistant Secretary Margaux, blogger, committee on public information, fake news, Manila Bulletin, Mocha Uson, Nancy Binay, PCOO, PCOO Secretary Martin Anadanar, Presidential Communications Operations Office, social media