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Poe, Roque locked in word war over fake news issue

A word war erupted yesterday between Sen. Grace Poe and presidential spokesman Harry Roque who said holding public officials to account for spreading fake news is unconstitutional.

Roque said a bill Poe filed on fake news violates the “equal protection clause” in the Constitution as it singles out government employees.
Under Senate Bill 1680, Poe seeks to amend Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees to penalize government employees who publish or disseminate false news or information in any platform.
Poe, in a statement, said Roque has a flawed interpretation of the Constitution
“There exists a clear and valid distinction between private individuals and public officials and employees,” Poe said.
She added the equal protection clause does not prohibit classification. “What it demands is for everyone in the same class (such as government employees and officials) to be held to the same standard,” she said.
Poe noted that employees and officials of the government are a sector or group that is recognized specifically.
“To this end, laws for government employees are introduced and passed, e.g. Salary Standardization Law, Code of Ethical Standards for Government Employees and others,” she said.
“We can hold government employees and officials to a higher standard. Public office is a public trust. It has always been the policy of the State to promote a high standard of ethics in public service,” she said.
Public officials and employees are required to be at all times accountable to the people and we are expected to discharge our duties with utmost responsibility and integrity, and we should uphold public interest over personal interest, Poe said.
She added private individuals are not required to file their SALNs and are not susceptible to administrative cases on their own.
“RA 6713 is the law we seek to amend. The title itself, “Code of Conduct for Public Officials and Employees,” is a law about government officials. Can you put a provision there that penalizes a private individual? Of course not, because it only applies to public officials and employees,” she added.
Amending RA 6713 will ensure that public officials will be liable for the act of publishing false information, she said.
“With my bill, we are determined to make sure that we keep our sworn responsibilities abreast with the digital age,” Poe said.
“His (Roque’s) false annotation of the fundamental law is as flawed as is his protective stance over the spread of false information. That is tragic,” Poe said.

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