MANILA, Philippines – Senator Grace Poe defended her bill that would punish government employees who share "fake news," and said they should be held to a higher standard.
Poe on Saturday, February 10, made the statement in response to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who argued that her bill violates the Constitution's clauses on free speech and equal protection.
Senate Bill 1680 seeks to amend Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, to penalize those in government who publish or disseminate false news or information in any platform.
According to a report by GMA News, Roque contended that Poe's bill is "presumed unconstitutional" because it serves as "content-based restriction."
He also said the bill is "infirmed for violative of equal protection clause as no basis for singling out [government] employees."
In a statement, Poe said there "exists a clear and valid distinction between private individuals and public officials and employees."
"The equal protection clause does not prohibit classification. What it demands is for everyone in the same class (e.g. government employees and officials) to be held to the same standard," Poe added.
Poe then disagreed with Roque's interpretation of the Constitution.
"His false annotation of the fundamental law is as flawed as is his protective stance over the spread of false information. That is tragic," she said.
'Public interest over personal interest'
The senator argued that there are laws that apply only to public officials, such as the Salary Standardization Law and RA 6713.
Amending RA 6713 through her bill, continued Poe, "will ensure that public officials will be liable for the act of publishing false information."
"We can hold government employees and officials to a higher standard. Public office is a public trust," Poe said, adding that it is among the state's policies to "promote a high standard of ethics in public service."
"We, as public officials and employees, are required to be at all times accountable to the people and we are expected to discharge our duties with utmost responsibility and integrity, and we should uphold public interest over personal interest."
With her bill, Poe said she is "determined to make sure that we keep our sworn responsibilities abreast with the digital age."
As head of the Senate committee on public information and mass media, Poe has conducted hearings in recent months about the spread of "fake news" or misinformation/disinformation in social media. – Rappler.com
Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.