MANILA - Twelve senators have called for an investigation into reports that public funds were allegedly being spent troll farms to spread misinformation and "fake news" online.
"Filipinos should know why government spends public funds on troll farm operators disguised as 'public relations practitioners' and 'social media consultants' who sow fake news rather than on COVID-19 assistance, health care, food security, jobs protection, education, among others,” according to Senate Resolution 768 filed Monday.
This comes following Sen. Panfilo Lacson's revelation in June that a government undersecretary had been reportedly organizing internet troll farms "to target political rivals or those not aligned with President Rodrigo Duterte's administration." The Palace has denied the allegation.
The resolution also cited the awarding of a P900,000-worth of contract by the Department of Finance to a public relations practitioner who was tagged by Facebook as the "operator behind a pro-Duterte fake account network."
"The above instances illustrate that troll farms and the misinformation and fake news that they propagate may be state-backed and state-funded. In this connection, Congress should look into government funds that are used to fund misinformation and fake news that affect millions of Filipinos," the resolution read.
The resolution was signed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, Emmanuel Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, and Joel Villanueva.
State auditors have also flagged the Presidential Communications Operations Office for its hiring of 375 contract of service (COS) personnel in 2020.
In its annual report, the Commission on Audit said the "unrestricted and massive" hiring of employees under contract of service cost the PCOO P70.6 million, "which could have been used for other programs and projects of the government."
PCOO Undersecretary Kris Ablan said the hired COS personnel performed tasks that were "highly technical." These positions include videographers, editors, directors, and social media specialists.
"Social media specialists [do] not equate to trolls. We don't have trolls in PCOO," he had said.
In a statement, Hontiveros said an alleged state-funded troll farm would be a "great desecration" by the government.
"Hindi dapat ginagamit ang kaban ng bayan sa pagpapakalat ng agam-agam at paglalako ng mga kasinungalingan," she said.
(State funds should not be used to peddle misinformation and lies.)
"Kabastusan ito sa taumbayan, lalo sa panahong maraming Pilipino ang nangangailangan ng kabuhayan at dagdag na tulong pangkalusugan."
(This is disrespect to the public, especially when many Filipinos need livelihood and help.)
Hontiveros said "these practices must be unearthed, condemned, and prevented from ever happening again."