Senate hearing tackles blogs vs Bong Go on warships deal
MANILA, Philippines – When is a post considered "fake news"? When is it a legitimate "political opinion"?
This was among the contentious issues tackled during the second Senate hearing on fake news on Tuesday, January 30, after Malacañang singled out posts made by opposition blogger Jover Laurio against Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go in relation to the P16-billion project to acquire two warships for the Philippine Navy.
"Bong Go hindi lang selfie king. Pakialamero din," read one of the screenshots of Laurio's Pinoy Ako Blog that Communications Secretary Martin Andanar presented. It was accompanied by a composite photo of President Rodrigo Duterte, Go, and a naval vessel.
"Bong Go, bilyonaryo," read another screenshot. It was accompanied by a different composite photo of Duterte, Go, a naval vessel, and wads of cash.
Laurio's blog posts came after Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported about Go's "intervention" and "special interest" in the P16-billion project to acquire two warships for the Philippine Navy.
Andanar said these posts incited hate messages. But Senator Nancy Binay said they might not be fake news.
Senator Nancy Binay: Paano naging fake news 'yung mga posts? (How did the posts become fake news?)
Secretary Martin Andanar: "Bong Go, hindi lang selfie king." Ang pagkasulat kasi niya ay very malicious, Ma'am e. That's very malicious. "Pakialamero din." Ano'ng gustong ipahiwatig ni Ms Jover sa sambayanan? Let's us also take into consideration that this kind of post ito 'yung nag-e-engganyo ng hate messages e. Itong post na ganito.
("Bong Go, not just a selfie king" The way it was written was very malicious, Ma'am. That's very malicious. "Meddlesome too." What does Ms Jover wish to convey to the people? Let us take into consideration that this kind of post is the kind that encourages hate messages. Posts like this.)
Senator Nancy Binay: But it's not fake news. It's a hate post.
Secretary Martin Andanar: Hate post. And it could be fake news.
Lawyer Gilbert Andres of the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) intervened to say the posts reflected "politicial opinion" and thus covered by the freedom of speech.
Go's involvement in the project were based on a Post-It note signed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana identifying Go as the source of a white paper endorsing a supplier of a critical system to be installed in the warships, the Combat Management System (CMS).
Documents also showed that Go's former staff at the Office of SAP, Undersecretary Christopher Lao, called a Navy officer in charge of the project to a meeting in Malacañang to discuss the selection of the CMS. The same officer – now Navy chief Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad – submitted a written report addressed to Duterte and Go.
Malacañang had called the Rappler report as "fake news." Andanar said Laurio's posts were "very malicious" because Go had already denied any knowledge and he was supposedly already cleared by Lorenzana and former Navy chief Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado.
Senator Grace Poe also chimed in to ask Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa, who was present at the hearing, about the documents. "Ang Rappler, may nilabas din na writings doon sa margins. How are you able to verify? Is that true news...about the meddling?"
Ressa responded to say that Lorenzana had confirmed the documents.
The authenticity of the documents were not contested. Lorenzana confirmed his handwriting on the Post-it note and that the white paper came from Malacañang. But he said he had forgotten who gave it to him and must have wrongfully "assumed" that it came from Go.
Mercado also categorically stated that Go never reached out to him personally about the multi-billion-peso project. This is because it was Empedrad who was called to Malacañang for a meeting.
Andres cautioned against tagging "political opinion" as "fake news."
"The antidote to speech that we hate is not less speech, but more speech. If some corners of the political society are against this post, the antidote is to post another opinion on that. Not censorship," Andres said.
The Senate hearing also became a venue for senators to confront bloggers who wrote negative pieces against them.
Senator Manny Pacquiao demanded a public apology from Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary for new media Lorraine Badoy as he confronted her about the "fake news" she posted about him during the 2016 elections – a photo of his campaign vehicle outside a house, which Badoy claimed belonged to the senator’s mistress. – Rappler.com