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JOINT STATEMENT: “Fake news” provision threatens freedom of the press, expression

We, media organizations, advocates of freedom of the press and of expression, journalists and academics, raise the alarm over the insertion of measures to control free expression in the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.”

We refer to Section 6(6), which penalizes “individuals or groups creating, perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid of beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion; and those participating in cyber incidents that make us or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts:”

This provision is tellingly embedded in Section 6, Penalties, which seeks to punish a menu of offenses “with imprisonment of two months or a fine of not less than P10,000 but not more than P1 million, or both, such imprisonment and fine at the discretion of the court.”

But the fact is that Section 6(6) seeks to punish people for an offense that, legally, does not even exist.

In effect, the law will leave it up to the government to be the arbiter of what is true or false, a prospect that cannot invite confidence given the fact that many administration officials, including the chief executive, have been sources of disinformation and misinformation.

Even before the measure was signed into law, news reports flagged the Philippine National Police’s formation of a task force that would go against supposed purveyors of “fake news. ”  In Cebu, Governor Gwendolyn Garcia publicly humiliated rapper Brandon Perang for making fun of government efforts against the pandemic on social media. She forced Perang  to “swear” an oath to “obey the law” in front of her and other officials. She also announced the creation of a “special unit” to go after other critics.

While we acknowledge the need to fight disinformation in this time of crisis, we fear the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act will only end up criminalizing free speech. We assert that the best way to fight disinformation is through education and the truth.

In times of crisis, when the swift delivery of accurate information to our people is vital, we need more, not less, independent reporting.

Alas, Section 6(6) and the accreditation requirement imposed on media will result in the opposite, to the detriment of our people.

To the community of independent journalists, let us tighten our ranks and stand firm in opposing any restrictions on the free performance of our duties.

To all freedom-loving Filipinos, stand with us in defending freedom of the press and of expression and your, the people’s, right to know.

Signed by the following media organizations and individuals:

Altermidya – Alternative People’s Media Network
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Center for Community Journalism and Development
College Editors Guild of the Philippines
Concerned Artists of the Philippines
Davao Today
The International Association of Women in Radio and Television – Philippines
Kilab Multimedia
Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI)
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Rappler
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Vera Files
Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines
University of the Philippines – College of Mass Communication

Interaksyon Editors
Rosette Adel
Camille Diola
Jeline Malasig

Philstar.com Editors
Jaira Krishelle Balboa
Deni Bernardo
Kristine Bersamina
Gaea Cabico
Ian Cigaral
Jonathan de Santos
Franco Luna
Prinza Magtulis
Dino Maragay
Kristine Joy Patag
Kristofer Purnell
James Relativo
Ratziel San Juan
Matikas Santos
E.C. Toledo

Alan Alegre, Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation
Cong B. Corrales, Associate Editor, Gold Star Daily
Danny Arao, Dept. of Journalism, University of the Philippines Diliman
Noemi L. Dado, blogger
Jimmy Domingo, photojournalist
Inday Espina-Varona
Lisa Garcia, Foundation for Media Alternatives
Bart Guingona, MediaNation
Ma. Diosa Labiste, Dept. of Journalism, University of the Philippines Diliman
Dominic Ligot, Democracy.Net.PH
Ed Lingao
Luz Rimban, Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism
Manny Mogato
Carlos Nazareno, Democracy.Net.PH
John Nery, Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer
Marian Pastor Roces, MediaNation
Bernice Soriano, Foundation for Media Alternatives
Lucia Tangi, Dept. of Journalism, University of the Philippines Diliman
Jane Uymatiao, blogger
Tyrone Velez, columnist, SunStar Davao

‘To stay true to journalism’s calling’

“I am deeply honored and at the same time humbled by the recognition. But more importantly, may the memory of Titus Brandsma inspire all of us to stay true to journalism’s calling, at a time when press freedom — and truth — are under heavy attack.”–Christian Esguerra, 2019 Titus Brandsma Emergent Leadership in Journalism Awardee

Fake pro-Duterte Facebook pages taken down

Facebook took down about 200 pages and accounts pro-Duterte Instagram and Facebook accounts organized by his social media manager in his 2016 campaign, Nic Gabunada last Friday, March 29, for their proliferation of fake accounts.

“[These] frequently posted about local and political news, including topics like the upcoming elections, candidate updates and views, alleged misconduct of political opponents, and controversial events that were purported to occur during previous administrations. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that this activity was linked to a network organized by Nic Gabunada,” Facebook said.

Cartoon by Mark Suva/Kodao

Groups vow to go after Mocha despite resignation

Groups welcomed Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Margaux “Mocha” Uson’s resignation this morning, saying the controversial official’s departure is “long overdue”.

Media and arts alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) said it gladly welcomes Uson’s departure as a victory against disinformation.

“[Her resignation] proves disinformation is not forever. Napupuno din ang salop,” LODI said in a statement hours after Uson announced at the Senate committee on finance her resignation.

LODI said Uson had actually been “shown the door, because [President Rodrigo] Duterte knows she is an albatross as an assistant secretary.”

Bayan Muna Representative Karlos Zarate for his part said that Uson’s resignation is long overdue.

“Government service, while it is about trust, is also about accountability. That is what is sorely lacking from her.  She’s an enabler of impunity, be it for fake news or tokhang killings or killings and displacements of the lumads, and many more,” Zarate said in a statement.

After absenting herself from several congressional hearings for PCOO’s 2019 budget, Uson finally attended the Senate hearing Wednesday morning and announced her resignation.

“Every year, I am told to ignore some lawmakers so that they won’t hold the PCOO budget hostage. It angers me, but that is the present system. It is rotten, but we have to go with it,” Uson told the Senate in Filipino.

“Because of that, I am making the sacrifice so that the PCOO budget would pass. I have decided to resign,” she added.

But Uson vowed to continue confronting her enemies, saying her resignation is not the end.

PCOO budget deliberations had been suspended several times by the House of Representatives which demanded a personal appearance by Uson to explain her controversial and “offensive videos produced and distributed using government resources.”

Uson and blogger Drew Oliver uploaded videos showing sexually-explicit dances moves to advocate for a federal form of government as well as hand gestures that offended hearing-impaired citizens.

Since her appointment to the PCOO, Uson continuously faced widespread condemnation as well as congressional inquiries about her so-called fake news posts.

Uson had been one of Duterte’s loudest supporters on social media in the 2016 presidential elections.

“This is a victory for Filipinos fed up with her brand of ‘advocacy’ in support of the corrupt and tyrannical [government],” LODI said of Uson’s resignation.

LODI thanked ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro, whose demand for Uson to appear in Congress led to her resignation and dismissal.

LODI said it intends to hold Uson accountable for her acts of graft and corruption as an assistant secretary.

“She will be made to pay for her crimes, regardless of her future plans. She is not legally and politically immune from accountability,” the group vowed. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Esperon’s claim on Joma’s health ‘fake news’–NDFP

The chief negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines slammed the government’s national security adviser for spreading lies against Prof. Jose Ma. Sison’s heath, saying Hermogenes Esperon Jr. is an active purveyor of fake news.

NDFP Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili in a statement said that contrary to the security adviser’s claim that Sison is seriously ill, the group’s chief political consultant is “very well and has fully recovered from his arthritis last year.”

“Look at his face, isn’t he sick? That is expected, but let me not go into details. But he is really ill,” Esperon told reporters in Quezon City Friday, the Philippine Star reported.

Contrary to Esperon’s claim, however, Agcaoili said Sison is up and about, conducting interviews with journalists and many others.

“His mind remains as sharp as ever and his analysis of political situations as incisive, brilliant and comprehensive as before,” Agcaoili said.

Seventy nine year-old Sison had been hospitalized several times since late 2016 due to several health complaints his comrades attributed to advancing age but has been very active lately, granting interviews and issuing statements to both Philippine-based and international journalists.

Lying Esperon

On the other hand, Agcaoili added, Esperon remains a “pathological liar” just as when he dismissed the many cases of extrajudicial killings of activists in 2006 as the doings of “internal purges” in the revolutionary movement.

“His allegation was dismissed by Prof. Philip Alston, then UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, as ‘especially unconvincing’ and the document presented as bearing ‘all the hallmarks of a fabrication and cannot be taken as evidence of anything other than disinformation,’” Agcaoili said.

Alston at the time concluded that “there is no reasonable doubt that the military is responsible for a significant number of the killings and that subsequent evidence points to the continuing nature of that practice.”

Esperon was Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff in 2006.

Agcaoili added that Esperon also lied when he implied that the Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph E. Estrada governments have conspired with the NDFP in attempting to topple the Manila government by signing The Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

“Such nonsense!” Agcaoli said.

On the so-called localized peace talks being pushed by the Rodrigo Duterte government, Agcaoili suggested that Esperon read the statements of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the National Operational Command of the New People’s Army, as well as the NDFP territorial units and regional commands rejecting the scheme.

Agcaoili said that Esperon must first know the positions of revolutionary forces on the ground “before he embarks on this road show meant only to line the pockets of bureaucrats, military commanders and faked surrenderers.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

No strike today: Piston condemns Palace suspension of classes

Jeepney drivers and operators condemned Malacañan Palace’s suspension of classes Tuesday based merely on “slightest threat of a [jeepney] strike.”

In a statement, Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (Piston) chairperson George San Mateo said there is no truth to Malacañan’s announcement the group planned to have more jeepney strikes after Monday.

“As Piston announced last March 14, the transport strike was scheduled only for Monday (March 19),” San Mateo said.

“Piston forcefully condemns Malacañan’s announcement based on a false information aimed at confusing the people. This is the [Rodrigo] Duterte’s way of trying to undermine the drivers and operators’ call against the jeepney phaseout,” he added.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announcement Tuesday morning the suspension of classes following instructions from Duterte.

“The President has instructed that he will suspend classes even with the slightest threat of a strike to ensure the protection and well-being of students,” Roque said.

Roque made a similar announcement Monday, saying the Palace will call for a class suspension in Metro Manila Tuesday until Friday “if and when Piston pushes through with its threat to continue its nationwide strike.”

Piston and San Mateo said Roque’s claim is “fake news.”

Piston clarified Monday night there will be no more transport strikes this week.

“The strike was only for one day today, March 19. It is only Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque who is coming out with the fake news there may be a strike tomorrow (Tuesday),” the group said.

Piston said it is impossible for Malacañan not to know there are no extensions after full coverage by media and government intelligence agents of Monday’s strike.

Piston opposes the Duterte government’s plan to immediately replace the iconic jeepneys with expensive vehicles

The group added they are for modernization of public mass transport in the country, but not at the expense of millions of families who depend on the jeepney for their livelihood and affordable mode of transport. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP wants Senate to cite blogger for contempt

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) urged the Senate to cite blogger Rey Joseph Nieto for contempt or be charged for perjury for resurrecting a discredited post at the Senate committee on public information and mass media hearing Wednesday.

In a statement, the NUJP said Nieto omitted the fact that his June 16 post unleashed a barrage of harassment and threats against Aznar.

“That Nieto did all this under oath should have earned him a perjury charge or a contempt citation at the very least,” the NUJP said.

Nieto, creator of the blog Thinking Pinoy and public relations consultant of the Department of Foreign Affairs was among the resource persons invited to the hearing into fake news.

In his testimony, Nieto again cited his claim Aznar had endangered government soldiers by posting online videos he took of the fighting in the early days of the Marawi crisis.

NUJP said that Nieto was making it appear that his post was a benign reminder to an errant journalist instead of the hate-filled and, worst of all, totally false rant.

A VeraFiles FactCheck on June 30, however said Aznar uploaded his video on the internet 73 minutes after it was taken.

Aznar for his part said Nieto’s latest statement against him are “foul and vile.”

Aznar added that both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police released a statement denying Nieto’s claims.

“That Nieto did all this under oath should have earned him a perjury charge or a contempt citation at the very least. That he did so as a consultant of the DFA, paid with the people’s money, makes it a hundred times worse,” NUJP said.

“There is no place in government – or in the field of professional communications, for that matter – for barefaced liars,” NUJP added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)