Villanueva threatens to defund agencies bankrolling trolls

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 15 2021 12:00 PM | Updated as of Jul 15 2021 12:17 PM

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MANILA - Sen. Joel Villanueva on Thursday threatened to cut state funding to government agencies employing troll farms for the 2022 elections.

Organized trolls, which sow disinformation online, are "weapons of mass distraction," he said.

"Number 1, we can always defund or hindi bigyan ng pondo (will not give them funding)," he told ANC's "Headstart."

"Pangalawa, meron ba silang nilabag na ating current laws na hindi dapat nila gawin (Second, if they violated any current laws). The committee will look into it," he said when asked if government agencies were found out to be using taxpayers' money for the troll farms.

Villanueva raised concern that by using trolls, it could lead to serious or even fatal consequences.

"Can you imagine the effect of spreading fake news? For example, the vaccine itself will become a microchip that will take over your body, etcetera, at kung pinaniwalaan ito ng isang indibiduwal (if a person believe this) or a group of people, nakakamatay ito (this is fatal). Hindi ito biro (This is not a joke," he said.

Villanueva joined 11 other senators in filing a resolution, which asked the chamber to investigate reports that public funds were used to finance troll farms propagating "fake news."

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 Commission on Audit also flagged the Presidential Communications Operations Office for hiring 375 contract of service (COS) personnel in 2020.

State auditors 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 had 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.

For the upcoming elections, which will elect Duterte's successor, Villanueva called for a "troll disarmament". He said he would never use troll armies in his possible reelection bid.

"It's against not just our character, but also against our faith. Napakatibay ng ating pananampalataya na 'yung katotohanan laging manatili. Katotohann, katarungan at katwiran (Our belief is strong that truth should always prevail. Truth, justice and logic)," he said.