Bare Truth by Rose de la Cruz
Bare Truth

So, locating the President is now a ‘national threat?’

Nov 30, 2022, 5:49 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz


In most countries—big or small—it is not wrong to ask where the leader, president or prime minister is. Simply asking it—in newspapers, radio or TV broadcasts, podcasts or vlogs and blogs-- does not constitute violating the national security code. Unless of course you belong to a known terrorist camp, who have hidden agenda to kill, maim or make the head disappear through violence—that then is a national security threat.

But not to Senator Robinhood Padilla, who claims that requesting for information about the location of the President of the Philippines already constitutes national threat.

Last month, the Twitter hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo (Where is the President?) trended when rumors spread that President Marcos Jr. had departed for Japan in the wake of the devastation wrought by Severe Tropical Storm Paeng. When that hashtag trended, the Palace retorted not in Japan.

According to Padilla, Marcos was with him in Cotabato during that time. He said:

“Papaano ‘yun, wala ba kayong hakbang dun, Ma’am, sa mga fake news? Kasi lagi kong inaabangan kung ano ang sasabihin ng Office of the President kasi kasama ko si Presidente, nandun kami sa Cotabato noong panahon na ‘yun na ang tsinitsismis nasaan ang Pangulo,” the senator asked during Monday’s hearing in the Senate on fake news.

After being asked about the office’s approach to press releases, OPS Undersecretary Rowena Reformina said they have been careful in their wording. But Padilla was not happy with the answer. Padilla presided over the session as head of the Senate committee on public information and mass media.

He averred that it is of national interest because ‘yung nangyari na ‘yun. Nalulungkot ako kasi walang nangyaring action,” Padilla said citing that BARMM was in a very delicate issue and those spreading fake news were saying the President was not around.

According to Padilla, typhoon victims thought the president had abandoned them because of the lies they were hearing.

“Bakit walang aksyong legal galing sa ating gobyenro doon sa nagpakalat ng balita na ‘yun samantalang ‘yung balita na ‘yun, naapektuhan lahat ng nasa BARMM dahil ang akala nila, pinabayaan sila ng Pangulo ng Pilipinas.”

He was told that under the Revised Penal Code anybody could file a case, including the PNP, NBI and Office of the Press Secretary and there is no need for a private complainant.

The issue was brought up after an officer of the NBI Cyber Crime, Efren Abantao, explained during the same hearing that there is already an existing law against fake news.

Abantao particularly cited Section 154 of the Revised Penal Code, which penalizes the spread of false news that endangers public order or causes damage to the interest of the state. But, he continued the existing law against fake news is limited so it would help if a new measure would expand and improve the definition of misinformation and disinformation.

It must be recalled that the hashtag nasaan ang Pangulo was also commonly- used in social media during the terms of former Presidents Benigno Noynoy Aquino (during the Mamasapano ambush) and Rodrigo Duterte (in the Zamboanga siege and other issues). But no legislator made such a big fuss about it, nor thought it was national (security) threat. In the case of Duterte, this question is even being used to hint that he was very sick.

Senator Raffy Tulfo said he is crafting a bill to decriminalize libel but only for legitimate journalists and members of media.

But for the pseudo media and pseudo journalists, who keep hitting people without getting their side of the story, his planned measure would not apply.

Tulfo said his office is studying accrediting vloggers to join or form organizations that will set standards for creating and publishing content, but all stakeholders will be consulted.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said he supports the accreditation of vloggers who want to cover government offices, which is a good way of putting some standards. Reformina said the plan to accredit vloggers to cover the Palace is yet being studied.

My take

It need not be said that a public office is a public trust, so it goes without saying that we should not be onion-skinned about questions like this and go as far as labelling it as a national security violation.

What does the actor-turned-senator want—that people would be uncaring about where the President is—if he is out of the country when they are feeling miserable from such devastation, or why he has not communicated to the citizenry—assuring them that he is on top of the situation—or just partying his time away.

Does he want the members of the household to be so apathetic towards its head—not anymore asking how he could be reached for some emergencies, or how he feels about the destruction of his country or what orders he would bark.

Being in public service is no longer a “me first proposition” but others (citizens) first.

Come on, you did not get elected to be celebrities on a pedestal-- people voted for you because they believed (like you wanted them to believe) that you would help them, not hide from them.

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