12 senators seek probe on troll farms spreading fake news on social media

Aileen Cerrudo   •   July 12, 2021   •   482

MANILA, Philippines — Twelve senators want to investigate reports that public funds are oiling the operation of troll farms that spread fake news and misinformation on social media.

The 12 senators signed the proposed Senate Resolution 768 asking the appropriate committee to conduct an inquiry on the alleged state-backed and state-funded spreaders of fake information.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, Emmanuel Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, and Joel Villanueva, on signing the resolution, said the issue should not be dismissed especially when the spread of fake news would heavily affect Filipino citizens.

Senator Panfilo Lacson previously reported that “a government undersecretary has been organizing internet troll farms across the country to target political rivals or those not aligned with President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.”

Based on the resolution, a social media troll is someone who creates conflict on various social media sites by posting messages that are particularly controversial or inflammatory with the sole intent of provoking an emotional response from other users

“Filipinos should know why government spends public funds on troll farm operators disguised as ‘public relations practitioners’ and ‘social media consultants’ who sow fake news rather than on Covid-19 assistance, health care, food security, jobs protection, education, among others,” reads the resolution.

Senator Francis Pangilinan stressed that misinformation and fake news do harm to the country especially as it faces the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We must not let pass the use of taxpayers’ money to malign and harass people who are critical to the government. This is dangerous for democracy, especially that elections are upcoming next year,” he said.

Advertising firms We Are Social and Hootsuite, in their 2020 annual report, found that Filipinos spend an average of four hours and 15 minutes each day on social media – topping the world rankings for the sixth straight year. The Philippines is also the highest in the world in internet usage with an average of 10 hours and 56 minutes. -AAC

Lawmakers say national budget must keep pace with COVID-19 pandemic

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 16, 2021

MANILA, Philippines— Some lawmakers believe that the proposed national budget for 2022 does not fit with the country’s continuous fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Senator Nancy Binay lamented that the country is a step behind when it comes to addressing the effects and risks of COVID-19.

Hindi natin nauunahan ang virus. Lagi tayong nasa catch-up. Kaya para sa akin for next year unahan na natin, pondohan na natin (We can’t seem to get ahead of the virus. We are always catching up. So, for me, for next year let us catch up to it. Let’s allot a budget for it),” she said.

Binay finds next year’s budget lacking with regards to providing aid, and raised concern on the placement of P45 billion fund for COVID-19 booster shots under unprogrammed funds. She also noted the lack of budget for contract tracing.

Ang 2022 budget is not ready for a war with COVID-19 ang daming kulang. Can you imagine, walang budget for contact tracing? And then noong tinanong ko sa Department of Budget and Management (DBM) bakit walang budget, ang sagot sa akin, kasi hindi raw hiningi ng Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), (The 2022 budget is not ready for a war with COVID-19, there is a lot lacking. Can you imagine, there is no budget for contract tracing? And when I asked the DBM why there is no budget, they said, ” It’s because DILG did not ask for it”), Binay said.

Chairman of the Committee on Finance Senator Sonny Angara noted that many of the requirements of the various government agencies and offices are not contained in the copy of the national budget submitted to Congress, particularly those related to the COVID-19 response.

“Agencies should be allowed to submit revisions to their proposed budgets to reflect new developments brought about by the pandemic. The spread of COVID has been rapid and our budget must be able to keep up with it,” the senator said.

Iloilo 1st District Rep. Janette Garin also noted that there is no budget for COVID-19 testing.

“The current proposed NEP (national expenditure program) while there are provisions there for some response for the pandemic, you also have a lot of items under the DOH that can actually be realigned for the procurement of vaccines,” she said. AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

Senate asks Comelec to extend voter registration until October 31

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 15, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—The Senate has asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to extend the voter registration period until October 31.

On Tuesday evening (September 14) during the hybrid plenary session, the Senate adopted Resolution No. 851 urging the Comelec to extend the deadline for voter registration from September 30, 2021 to October 31, 2021 “to prevent voter disenfranchisement brought about by the COVID-19.”

In a privilege speech, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, who is also sponsor of the resolution, said the September 14 deadline was set before the pandemic.

“It is a pre-pandemic deadline. Nobody could have anticipated how this public health emergency would severely impact our daily lives, let alone voter registration,” he said.

Pangilinan presented video footage of Filipinos lining up in long queues when voter registration resumed in Metro Manila last September 6 after the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was lifted in the National Capital Region+ and other cities which were placed under ECQ.

He also noted that registrations were cut-off earlier than the published hours.  The  senator cited the case of a youth volunteer who arrived at the Comelec office at 3:00 p.m. but was told that the cut-off was 2:30 p.m. even though the registration was supposed to be until 5:00 p.m. He was also told that only 300 registrants were accommodated.

Pangilinan also mentioned that unavailable slots and lack of time and money to go to the Comelec offices  are  often the reasons why some people could not register.

“While it is important for Comelec to be given enough time to prepare a final list of voters that is a prerequisite for the preparation and completion of its Project of Precincts or POP, we believe that a one-month extension will not delay Comelec’s preparation,” he stressed.

The senator also pointed out that in previous elections since 2001, voter registration deadlines were set on or beyond October 31. He said that voter registration can still be extended 120 days before a regular election and the Senate is only asking for registration to be extended until October.

“Based on this alone, Comelec has the prerogative to set the deadline of voter registration before January 9, 2022. But we are not asking that, we are only asking for a one-month extension. Only one month,” he said.

Other senators, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” F. Zubiri, Senators Risa Hontiveros and Imee Marcos supported Pangilinan’s call to extend the deadline for voter registration. AAC

 

 

Duterte tells Cabinet execs to get clearance first before attending Senate hearing

Robie de Guzman   •   September 14, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday ordered Cabinet members to seek his clearance first before attending Senate inquiries.

 “I will require that the Cabinet members invited to your [Senate] hearings that he will clear the invitation with me,” Duterte said in a taped public address that was aired on Tuesday.

The president issued the statement as he once again criticized the Senate for holding investigations into the government’s pandemic response for the alleged anomalous transactions and purchase of pandemic supplies.

Duterte said he is not questioning Senate’s authority to conduct investigations in aid of legislation. However, he noted that some officials invited as resource persons, especially those coming from the Executive department, have attended the hearings for hours but are not given the time to say their testimonies.

He also acknowledged the upper chamber’s power to cite a person in contempt but stressed that as the president, he can also exercise his authority over his Cabinet members.

“May option kayo to cite the person in contempt. Ako na magsabi. Ako ang may utos na hindi mag-attend,” he said.

“I think I can do it as a president really if there is an abuse of authority there or exceeding the authority of the reasonable time that the Congress conducts hearing I will limit what you can do with the Rxecutive department of the government,” he added.

He also accused lawmakers of “stretching” the hearings as part of their strategies come 2022 elections.

“Tingnan ko kung pabalik-balik na lang with no other purpose except to ramble, to stretch the hearing because that is good for election until may be the election itself. Okay man yan because you are entitled to your own strategy,” he said.

Duterte likewise said he will campaign against Senator Richard Gordon for being an “unfit” lawmaker.

Gordon is the chairman of Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that is holding a probe into the government’s COVID-19 response.

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