Palace says senators can investigate troll farms 'all they want'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 14 2021 04:26 PM

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Malacañang said on Wednesday lawmakers can investigate "all they want" regarding reports that public funds were allegedly being spent on troll farms to spread misinformation and "fake news" online.

At least 12 senators have called for an investigation into the alleged troll farms after Sen. Panfilo Lacson claimed a government undersecretary was reportedly organizing fake news perpetrators "to target political rivals or those not aligned with President Rodrigo Duterte's administration." The Palace has denied the allegation. 

"We welcome po iyong imbestigasyon na gagawin ng Senado. Alam ninyo naman po independiyenteng sangay iyan ng gobyerno at hindi namin madidiktahan. So they can investigate all they want," said Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque. 

(We welcome the investigation that the Senate will mount. You know anyway that that is a separate branch of government, and we cannot dictate upon them.)

"Paki-imbestiga rin po iyong mga bumabanat sa akin na mga trolls dahil according to a study, ako po iyong pinakamatinding binabanatan ng mga trolls. At naniniwala po ako na organized din iyang mga pagbanat sa akin," he said in a press briefing. 

(Please investigate, too, the trolls who are hitting me because according to a study, I am the most targeted by trolls. And I believe that the attacks against me are also organized.)

Roque did not identify which study he was referring to. 

Palace says senators can investigate troll farms 'all they want' 1
Artwork by Maverick Pesigan

The Senate resolution calling for the probe also cited the award of a P900,000 contract to a public relations practitioner who was earlier 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 said.
 
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.