MANILA, Philippines – Unlike journalists, Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson claimed she is not required to be fair in her social media posts even after she entered the government service, as she is a blogger.
Uson made the statement during a heated exchange with minority Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV at the first Senate hearing on fake news on Wednesday, October 4.
Uson lamented how GMA News supposedly aired “fake news” against her and claimed the organization did not get her side. (READ: Mocha Uson: 'Ako po ay biktima ng fake news')
Aquino then criticized Uson for wanting news organizations to treat her fairly when she herself did not practice the same virtue.
“Sa dinami-dami ng blog mo, may isang beses ba na humingi ka ng side namin (In the number of blogs you've posted, was there ever a time when you asked for our side)?” Aquino said.
Before Uson responded, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III defended her and said bloggers are not journalists and are not required to do so.
“Ang journalists, 'pag merong mga balitang nakakasama sa isang tao, dapat kukunin mo kabilang side. 'Pag di mo kinuha, di ka dapat ano [journalist[. 'Yung sinasabi mo naman, iba naman 'yan e, blog 'yan,” Sotto told Aquino.
(When journalists report news that harm a person, they should get the other side. If you don't get it, you shouldn't be a journalist. What you're saying is different because she writes a blog.)
But Aquino went on to ask Uson if she thinks GMA News should have gotten her side: "Sa tingin mo ba dapat hiningi (Do you think they should have asked for your side)?"
Uson replied:" “Natural po. Journalist po sila, trabaho nila 'yun kunin both sides (Naturally. they're journalists. It's their job to get both sides)."
Aquino then said: “In your case, never ka humingi ng side, lahat ng nilagyan mo ng blog dito. Just the other day, may blog ka sa minority. May isang beses ba na kumuha ka ng side namin?”
(In your case, you never got the side of all the people that you wrote about in your blog. Just the other day, you had a blog on the minority. Was there even one time yhat you got our side?)
Uson said she was not required to do that.
“With all due respect, hindi po ako isang journalist. Blogger po ako, di po ako journalist (I am not a journalist. I am a blogger, I am not a journalist),” Uson said.
A seemingly irked Aquino then asked Senate public information chair Grace Poe to “instruct” Uson to answer yes or no.
Uson then asked Aquino, “Ano po 'yung pekeng balita (What fake news are you talking about)?”
Aquino repeated his question, "Can I ask lang Asec Mocha: Humingi ka ba ng side namin all those times you blogged about us? Yes or no (Can I ask Asec Mocha: Did you ever ask for our side all those times you blogged about us? Yes or no)."
Uson reiterated, “Senator Bam Aquino, ang ginagawa ko po blogging, 'di po ako journalist (what I do is blogging. I am not a journalist).”
Poe then asked Uson to answer yes or no, but she refused to answer.
Aquino then asked her grounds for declining to comment, to which Uson replied, “I have the right to refuse.”
“I have the right, ano po (isn't that right)? I have the right against self-discri-," she said, before correcting herself to say self-incrimination.
Aquino asked what crime was she trying to avoid because such phrase “presupposes a criminal act.”
But Uson dismissed it and said, “Senator Bam, I refuse to answer, lumalabas na po tayo sa fake news [issue] ng GMA7 (we're moving away from issue of fake news of GMA7).”
Administration Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri defended Uson and said resource persons should not be “embarrassed” in hearings.
Aquino reiterated his question, which Uson had yet to answer.
“My question is, yes or no lang po. Hiningan ba niya kami ng side in the same way na hinihingi niya sa GMA News Online (answer it only with yes or no. Did you ask for our side in the same way that you're asking GMA News Online to do the same)?” Aquino said.
“You're asking these agencies to be fair to you. Hinihinigi mo fairness, puwede ba bigyan mo kami ng fairness? Ang tanong ko, humingi ba siya ng mga side ng opposition, ng minority (You're asking for fairness, can you give us fairness? My question is, did she ask for the side of the opposition, the minority)?" Aquino said.
Poe interjected and advised Uson to answer the question because it would not incriminate her.
“Asec Mocha, konting payo – hindi naman incriminating 'yan kasi (a little advice – it's not incriminating because) it does not imply a crime....Others can probably say that it’s incompetence, negligence, or opinionated blogging,” Poe said.
Uson apologized for her act and claimed it's a blogger’s right to choose if she would seek the other party’s comment or not.
“Unang-una, karapatan ng blogger kung gusto hingin side ng [kabila]....Opinion-based po ang blogging unlike po sa mainstream media, may obligasyon po sila (First of all, it's the blogger's right whether or not to get the other side....Blogging is opinion-based unlike in mainstream media, who have that obligation),” Uson said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros did not take this sitting down and cited an earlier statement of Communications Secretary Martin Andanar on August 12 that contradicted Uson's stand.
Hontiveros recalled that Andanar earlier said that bloggers “have to follow journalists’ code of ethics.”
“It’s straight from the horse’s mouth,” Hontiveros said.
Uson maintained her account is her private blog and not under the government. Senators, however, refused to buy this, saying she is a government official paid by taxpayers’ money.
Uson has repeatedly criticized journalists by calling them "presstitutes," or journalists paid to write biased and inaccurate news. She had been accused of spreading fake information on her widely-read blog, even after she became a government official. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org