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Joel Villanueva 'offended' over shallow criteria for UST alumni award

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senator Joel Villanueva said he is offended that the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Alumni Association selected its awardees based on seemingly shallow merits.

The senator was among those who received the Thomasian Alumni Award for Government Service, together with Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson – the subject of controversy after UST alumni and students said she did not deserve to be honored.

Villanueva said the alumni association's officers implied that the recognition is "just a loyalty award."

"The officers said the award is actually just a loyalty award, to that effect, dahil parang ang criteriang sinasabi (because they're saying the criteria is that) you're a graduate of UST and you work for the government," the senator told reporters on Monday, January 22.

"Kung tatanungin 'nyo nga po ako kung na-offend ako o hindi, I will be [a] hypocrite kung sabihin kong hindi kasi gano'n na lang pala ang criteria (If you will ask me if I'm offended or not, I would be a hypocrite if I say that I'm not, because it turns out the criteria is just like that)."

The UST Alumni Association earlier said it wants the award to "inspire" Uson and other recipients "to lead the Thomasian core values of Compassion, Competence, and Commitment." (READ: 'The Varsitarian' asks UST alumni officers to resign over Mocha Uson's award)

No comment on Uson

Villanueva said he is "saddened" by the controversy hounding the award. But asked if he thinks Uson embodies Thomasian values, including veritas or truth, the senator refused to comment.

"It won't be good if I comment on that, because the last time she made a comment she was slamming me. So it won't look good because it would appear that I'm just getting back at her," Villanueva said.

"Let's look for a more sensible issue that we can debate on, especially fake news," he added.

Villanueva is a sponsor of Senate Bill 1492, seeking to punish the creation and proliferation of misinformation online. Uson, on the other hand, has spread wrong information on her social media accounts.

'Shameful'

Another lawmaker who was recognized for government service, Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin, said on Monday, "It is shameful and unpleasant to get an award that goes against the core values of Thomasians, 'truth in charity' as well as public accountability and transparency in government."

He called Uson "a purveyor of fake news, an unrepentant violator of ethical standards in journalism,  and a free-flowing fountain of foul language and obscenity."

With her conduct as public official, "she has corrupted the values that Thomasians hold dear," Villarins said. 

UST has since distanced itself from the award, saying it was solely given by the alumni association. The official student publication, The Varsitarian, has called on the alumni officers to resign, while the UST Journalism Society calls on the alumni association to revoke Uson's award. 

Malacañang, for its part, said the recognition "validates" Uson's appointment.

Uson earned a degree in medical technology from UST, then attended medical school in the same university for two years before dropping out to become leader of the Mocha Girls, an all-female dance group. She also previously gave sex tips in a series of online videos.

She is a rabid supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte and has called on Duterte's supporters to slam mainstream media, which she calls "presstitutes." (READ: What is Mocha Uson's top source of news?)  with a report from Bea Cupin/Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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