Andanar: Mocha 'enjoys trust and confidence of the President'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 30) — Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar shrugged off calls to fire controversial blogger and Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, saying she enjoyed President Rodrigo Duterte's confidence.

"Mocha enjoys the trust and confidence of the President," Andanar said on CNN Philippines' The Source in an episode that aired Wednesday. He said this was why he was unfazed by criticism of her.

"The fact that she's always, most of the time, with him in his activities, malaki ang tiwala ni Presidente sa kanya [the President really trusts her]," he said.

Uson's proximity to the President was evident when she attended President Duterte's closed-door meeting with the parents of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos on August 28. Kian was killed during a police operation as part of the President's war on drugs.

In her August 29 column in The Philippine Star, Uson penned her experience alongside Duterte during his third visit on August 24 to the battle zone in Marawi City, where military is winding up its three-month long fight against the ISIS-linked Maute Group.

Uson campaigned for Duterte in the 2016 elections and runs a Facebook page with more than five million followers. She maintains this page even after her appointment as Assistant Secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).

"Mocha Uson is still in a campaign mode until now. She protects the President, and whether we like it or not... then we have to accept the fact that that's her unique selling proposition, her huge following online," Andanar said.

Andanar was asked about netizens' calls to hold Uson accountable for posting misleading information last week. He said Uson holds herself responsible for whatever she posts on her Facebook page.

"Unang una, may disclaimer siya na kung ano man ang gusto niyang sabihin, sa kanya lang yan, walang kinalaman ang PCOO dito. We agreed to that. Kung meron siyang napo-post na nagiging kontrobersyal si Mocha, she will have to answer for that," Andanar said.

[Translation: First of all, she has a disclaimer that if she wants to say something, it's her opinion and PCOO has nothing to do with it. We agreed to that. If Mocha posts something controversial, she will have to answer for that.]

In a Twitter post on August 22, 2017 the Assistant Secretary called on Vice President Leni Robredo and opposition senators to visit the wake of a policeman killed during a drug bust — but the officer was killed in August 2016.

The tweet was deleted, but not before it prompted the trend #FireMocha, with netizens calling out Uson for spreading fake news.

Related: #FireMocha trends on Twitter after another social media gaffe

Uson has around 148,000 followers on Twitter.

When asked if how he felt about misleading information being posted, Andanar replied, "I have so many problems in my department."

"Kahit anong sabihin ko sa kanya, sasabihin niya, 'No, it's my own...' Basta ako, 'Okay, kung yun ang sinabi mo, I respect your decision, yun ang position mo diyan. I have eight or nine more agencies to run and a few hundred more people to look after,'" said Andanar.

[Translation: Whatever I tell her, she'll say, 'No, it's my own (page)...' So I say, 'Okay, if you say so, I respect your decision, that's your position.']

This is not the first time Uson drew flak for her posts. In May, she posted a call to pray for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, along with a photo of Honduran police from 2015. In March, her radio program on DZRH was suspended after she used profane language against Robredo.

"Alam mo naman si Mocha kasi [You know Mocha], she just moves forward. Whatever happens to her online, and whatever hashtag trends, it shouldn't be #FireMocha, it should be #MochaOnFire," said Andanar.


Andanar to head PNA Editorial Board

Andanar said he will also head the Philippine News Agency (PNA) Editorial Board, which was formed to improve the country's news agency, which has been involved in a series of gaffes.

The secretary said that the agency had been neglected until he came into office in 2016, so they were looking into making changes — including mobile compatibility for the website and training for editors.

"This is really an agency na napabayaan [that was neglected] all throughout the years," said Andanar.

Related: PNA creates editorial board to address errors

Earlier in August, the PNA apologized for posting the logo of fruit producer Dole Philippines Inc. next to an article about the Department of Labor and Employment, also abbreviated to DOLE.

Related: PNA apologizes for wrong DOLE logo

The agency also came under fire for reposting an opinion piece from the China's state-run Xinhua News Agency. The article called the arbitral ruling, which favors Philippine claims in South China Sea, "ill-founded."

It also drew flak for posting a cropped photo of a Vietnamese soldier alongside an article about military operations in Marawi City.

Andanar said the person who reposted the Xinhua opinion piece has since "opted for retirement," while the worker behind the DOLE gaffe appealed for a suspension before retirement. The person who posted the Vietnam photo resigned.

"We have to give the benefit of the doubt to all of these workers. We came in with a 2003 website... We changed it... There was zero social media presence. We placed it on Facebook."

The PCOO has also opened presidential coverage to bloggers and social media personalities, another move that raised questions from journalists. According to Andanar, no bloggers have applied for accreditation yet.