Duterte says 'overboard' Mocha Uson still has right to free speech

MANILA, Philippines – Reacting for the first time in public to Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson's controversial federalism jingle, President Rodrigo Duterte admitted she may have overdone things but that he can't sanction her for expressing herself.

"Si Mocha maraming kalaban.... There are things na tingin ko na medyo nasobrahan (Mocha has many enemies.... There are things that I think may have gone overboard) but just the same, as a President sworn to protect the Constitution and enforce it, it is covered with 'yung privilege niya (her privilege) – freedom of expression," said Duterte on Monday morning, September 3, while on an official visit to Israel.

"Kung ano ang gusto niyang sabihin, que empleyado siya ng opisina ko o sa labas as a private citizen (Whatever she wants to say, whether she is an employee in my office or she is outside, as a private citizen), that is not really my concern as long as it is covered by the Constitution, freedom of expression," he added.

Duterte was speaking at a gathering of Israel-based Filipinos at the Ramada hotel. Uson was in the audience.

In early August, Uson stirred controversy after posting a jingle and dance about federalism that made references to female private parts. Lawmakers, federalism advocates, and other government officials were outraged over the video, calling it "inappropriate," insulting to women, and an embarrassment to government.

Duterte and Malacañang often invoke the right to freedom of speech when addressing the many controversies Uson's work as a government official has stirred. (READ: Is Mocha Uson above reprimand?)

But lawmakers and critics have pointed out that the issue is not so much rights to free expression but Uson's responsibilities as a government official tasked with upholding a code of ethics.

Uson's own colleagues at the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) admit she violated this code of ethics. One official has asked her to go on leave and issue a public apology, a call Uson has not heeded.

After the federalism jingle, there were renewed calls to give the PCOO zero budget for 2019. (READ: Zero budget for PCOO? 'Huwag naman po,' says Roque) – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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