MANILA (UPDATED) — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday said his administration's governance is guided by the Philippines' freedom of information (FOI) program, adding that fake news had no place in society.
At the 14th International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC), a network overseeing the implementation of access of public information laws and policies around the world, Marcos touted the country's FOI program, one of the first initiatives launched by his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte when he assumed the presidency in 2016.
Marcos said he had placed the FOI's principles in his administration's development plan for the next 6 years, with the program serving as a basis for a high-priority initiative that seeks to digitalize services offered by national and local government agencies.
He also credited the program as having "advanced the campaign against misinformation and disinformation in the country," which he acknowledged as a problem suffered by the Philippines and other nations.
As part of this campaign, the President also pitched his administration's efforts to create "digital, multimedia, and youth-oriented" media literacy program.
"Like everyone here, we too recognize as a matter of principle that fake news should have no place in modern society," he said.
"The ICIC can be assured that the Philippines will continue to promote freedom of information... We will strive to maintain a government that is not only effective and efficient, but also transparent and accountable to our people," Marcos added.
Now on its 20th year, the ICIC is holding its meeting for the first time in Asia, Malacañang said Monday.
"Being the host this year is indeed a testament that the Philippine government recognizes access to information as a fundamental human right that must be upheld," said Presidential Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil, whose office plays host to this year's ICIC summit in Manila.
During the run-up to the 2022 polls where Marcos gained the presidency through a landslide victory, his campaign was criticized for allegedly using online trolls and networks promoting disinformation aimed at whitewashing the martial rule of his father and namesake, former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
At the time, scholars pointed out misleading posts that promoted Marcos Sr.'s regime, supposedly distorted historical accounts, and targeted Marcos Jr.'s then rival, former Vice President Leni Robredo.
Marcos Jr., who had consistently led pre-election surveys, denied the allegations.
"Wala kayong naririnig na fake news (mula) sa akin. Ang dami sinisi sa amin, pinapalitan namin ang kasaysayan... Wala naman kami na sinasabi na ganoon," the younger Marcos said during a March 2022 town hall in Marikina City.
(You've never heard any fake news from me. They've been alleging us of rewriting history. We haven't said anything to that effect.)
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), for its part, said that while it agreed with Marcos' sentiments on disinformation, it challenged his administration to "acknowledge the sins" during Marcos Sr.'s martial rule, including ill-gotten wealth and gross human rights abuses.
"We hope, however, that such a campaign will not —as it has previously — lead to the labeling of critical reports and of dissent as 'fake news.' We hope as well that the government's drive against misinformation and disinformation will include openness on government transactions and records and greater access for journalists to officials and agency heads," the NUJP statement read.
"We also hope that this drive will cover the malicious and baseless labeling by government officials and their surrogates of some of our colleagues as terrorists and enemies of the state, an old form of disinformation against dissent that has been revived in recent years," the group added.
NUJP also called on Marcos to certify an FOI law as urgent.
"The Freedom of Information executive order, despite the exceptions on access to certain documents, signed in 2016 was a welcome step in the direction of openness. The Marcos Jr. administration can go further by certifying passage of a Freedom of Information law as urgent and necessary."