SENATORS on Wednesday, October 4, asked bloggers Margaux "Mocha" Uson and Rey Joseph Nieto, more popularly known as Thinking Pinoy, to be more circumspect in their posts now that they are getting salaries funded by Filipino taxpayers.
Uson is an assistant secretary under the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), while Nieto has been hired as a consultant of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
At the Senate inquiry into fake news, Nieto admitted to Senator Francis Pangilinan that he is now connected with the Department of Foreign Affairs as head of Strategic Communication for Migrant Workers.
“Do you know that you are now receiving money from the taxpayers? Being now a consultant in the government, you are now bound by the Code of Conduct," Pangilinan said, referring to Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees which requires political neutrality among government employees.
"It is time to rethink because you have now a sensitive position,” Pangilinan added.
Nieto, however, argued that his position is not sensitive and, citing the Civil Service Commission law, said that being a consultant does not mean he has to discontinue his regular blog.
“But it is allowed. Please send a complaint. If I was given a choice, I will not work in the DFA. But the DFA needs me. I have 700,000 followers. And my purpose in the DFA is to reach out to the OFWs,” Nieto said.
He insisted that he is a blogger first. As a DFA consultant, he said he merely advises the department.
"There is no employee-employer relationship,” he said.
Senator Nancy Binay also cited RA 6713 in telling Uson that as a public official, "you cannot separate your blogging from your public position.”
Senator Grace Poe, who chairs the Senate committee on public information and mass media, reminded Uson to be more careful in blogging and to use only sites that have been validated carefully for the sake of fairness.
“Government resources are in your hands to validate,” Poe told Uson.
Uson had shared, among others, the wrong photos to accompany her posts. Among these was a photo of Honduran law enforcers who were praying to go with a post encouraging her followers to pray for Philippine soldiers fighting the Maute Group in Marawi City.
Uson admitted she is bashed online everytime she commits a mistake.
“Kaya po naglalagay po ako kaagad ng erratum (that's why I immediately post an erratum)," she said.
She said she herself was a victim of fake news and asked that there should be accountability for spreading fake news.
“I am a victim of fake news. Naniniwala po ako na dapat may accountability. Dapat may mukha,” Uson said.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who filed about two weeks ago six criminal complaints against Uson before the Ombudsman, reminded her that she is no longer an ordinary citizen, being a PCOO assistant secretary.
Roby Alampay, editor-in-chief of Interaksyon and BusinessWorld, said a government official with a blog such as Uson's is untenable because it becomes difficult for the public to distinguish when the official is wearing his private hat.
PCOO UnderSecretary Joel Sy Egco said Uson is free to express her opinions "as long as she is not using a government portal.”
But at the same time, Egco urged Congress to make a clear and more defined cybercrime law before they can penalize the spreading of fake news.
“We can accuse anyone of spreading news because we don’t have a clear definition of the term fake news. Malaki talaga ang problema natin sa fake news na yan,” Egco said. (Jun M. Sarmiento/SunStar Philippines)