Poe, Roque argue on government, people’s obligation on fake news

Published March 15, 2018, 5:37 PM

by AJ Siytangco

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola 

Senator Grace Poe is bent on pushing her proposal to penalize government officials who spread “fake news,” even with a Palace official insisting that it would violate their right to free speech and equal protection of law.

The debates on whether or not to hold public servants liable for disseminating fake news floated anew at the resumption of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media’s inquiry into the proliferation of misinformation online Thursday, when Poe, committee chairman, and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque figured in a disagreement.

Senator Grace Poe (left) and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque during the Fake and/or Misleading News and False Information hearing in Pasay City, March 15,2018. (Czar Dancel / MANILA BULLETIN)
Senator Grace Poe (left) and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque during the Fake and/or Misleading News and False Information hearing in Pasay City, March 15,2018.

This, after Roque took to the hearing his objection to Poe’s Senate Bill No. 1680, which seeks to prohibit government officials and workers from sharing and spreading false information under the Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

“The proposed law singles out government employees for spreading fake news and that, to me, is possibly infringing on equal protection,” Roque said.

“What is the importance of regulating fake news? It’s because we want to uphold the truth. If the objective is to uphold the truth, it does not matter if it’s a legitimate journalist or a blogger that spreads false news. That’s why my position is, there is no basis to single out government employees should only have the liability for spreading false news.”

“If we are to enact a law, which I advise against, it should apply to all, not just government employees,”

The Palace official also reiterated that any law that would penalize fake news enjoys “overwhelimng presumption of unconstitutionality” as it is tantamount to violating the Charter which stipulates that “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech or expression.”

Roque said that “even false statements make a viable contribution to public debate since it can be bring about a livelier impression of truth,” adding it allows a “free market place of ideas.”

“If we are to penalize fake news, who will judge what is fake news and what is news… The public should be allowed to decide whatis true and what is false,” he added.

Poe responded and “corrected” Roque, saying there is already a Revised Penal Code criminalizing misinformation which, she said, applies to all.

The senator also clraified that sheo nly sought to amend the RA 6713 to include in the code of conduct of government workers a provision against the spread of fake news.

Poe, citing the same law, argued, “Government employees, such as us, are held to a higher standard. There are certain things that we are liable for.”

“We need to be able to present our SALNs and ordinary citizens do not. We can be charged with plunder and graft but not an ordinary citizen, unless they connive with us,” she added.

Poe said that “certain rights” of public servants have to be waived to be able to be transparent in their duties.

Roque left the hearing before the issue on fake news — which involved officials of the Palace — were tackled.

In an interview after the hearing, Poe said she respects the Presidential Spokesperson’s opinion but stood by her proposed law.

“Hindi ito ikatutuwa ng iba pero yung mga empleyado ng gobyerno ay may mas mataas na responsibilidad. Kasama naman ako doon, lahat naman kami (This will not be favored by others but government employees should have higher responsibilities. I am part of it, all of us are),” she told reporters.

“First of all, it is up to the public to determine what’s fake or not but as a government official, you have the responsibility that when you know it’s fake, you should not release it.”

“Why would burden our countrymen when it should have been released when you know it’s fake?” she added.