Poe, Roque clash on bill prohibiting officials from spreading fake news

MANILA, Philippines – Should government officials be penalized for spreading fake news or misinformation?

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque and Senator Grace Poe clashed on the issue on Thursday, March 15, during the 3rd and final Senate hearing on fake news.

Roque, who said he attended the hearing "in his personal capacity," reiterated his stand that Poe's proposed law, Senate Bill 1680, is unconstitutional. (READ: Mocha Uson: Fake news victim or fake news peddler?)

"To begin with, there should be no law abridging freedom of expression. Any law which will criminalize fake news will obviously be a violation [because] it is a law that will abridge freedom of expression," Roque said.

He added: "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. And that's why my position is [that] there is no basis for singling out that only government employees should have liability when they spread false news."

But Poe said government officials must be held to a higher standard. Unlike an ordinary citizen, she said government employees are required to submit statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN), among others.

"I think that you agree that government employees, such as us, are held to a higher standard. There are certain things we are liable for. We need to present SALN [while] an ordinary citizen [does] not. We can be charged graft with plunder, they cannot unless they connive with us. There are certain things expected of us because we have waived that certain right because we are serving the people," Poe said.

Roque stood by his view. But Poe advised him to just attend a separate committee on the bill, which will be handled by opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV as chair of the civil service, government reorganization, and professional regulation.

"As I've said Mr Roque, we've always been, most of the time, on the same side of the fence. Correct?" she said, "We're here to defend the truth... At ito namang position natin hindi naman panghabambuhay eh (And our positions are not for life)."

Roque earlier said he would resign if Poe's bill becomes law. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.