Interview with Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan by Pia Hontiveros (CNN Philippines)

PIA/CNN:                                           Good evening, Asec. Ablan. Welcome to news night.

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                Hi. Thanks, Pia.

PIA/CNN:                                           Thank you for being here. Okay. Let’s give you this—tell us how this came about. You know what precipitated it. Many people think that it’s because President Duterte would speak sometimes about mainstream media and complain about the coverage he was getting. Was that it or was it something else?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                That wasn’t it. At this—from as far as I know, there were bloggers as early as last year who had wanted to cover the President formally and they wrote the office if they could cover the President similar as the Malacañang Press Corps.

PIA/CNN:                                           Okay this was—the office meaning they wrote Secretary Martin Andanar?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                Yes at PCOO.

PIA/CNN:                                           Sino itong mga bloggers na ito, who have sent in that letter? What month was that?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                Several ‘no. So there are many sets of bloggers who cover the President. You have ‘Thinking Pinoy’ who wanted to cover the President. They actually visited him in Malacañang last year. Early this year we received a formal letter from a blog group called ‘Blog Watch’ really seeking for accreditation.

PIA/CNN:                                           Sinong mga blogger na ito ‘no? Dauen Hidado(?) and Jane Omatyao(?), yes indeed?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                Yes. Yes.

PIA/CNN:                                           Okay. Okay so that was it basically?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                That’s correct.

PIA/CNN:                                           Okay. So it was just a request from bloggers. Can you consider as—can you allow us to cover? So now there is a process of accrediting. Mayroon na bang process of accreditation or itong ni-release ninyo na Department Order number 015 series of 2017, subject “interim of social media practitioner accreditation”. This is like a framework?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                Yes, the basic framework. Now the draft was actually—the original draft was discussed at a town hall meeting in UP early this year in February and we invited all media, mainstream media in radio, print and television, as well as the bloggers to give their insights and their comments on the draft. And it was really long, a lengthy draft. But you know they give their comments and from a multi-page comprehensive policy, we shortened it to an interim social media accreditation because we couldn’t agree and I advise Assistant Secretary Uson and Secretary Andanar—

PIA/CNN:                                           Mocha Uson?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                Yes that we—if we’re going to wait for a perfect policy for accreditation, we might not have an accreditation process at all. So at the very least let’s come out with an interim temporary, provisionary social media accreditation policy. And then let’s just refine it—

PIA/CNN:                                           Refine.

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                As we go along—

PIA/CNN:                                           As we go along. Okay, so ito kasi halimbawa section 5, requirements ‘no, so, Filipino citizen, at least 18 years of age, with not less than 5,000 followers. So where that the—that threshold come from and what was the idea behind?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                The original draft when my office was drafting the policy was, we really hit a wall to determine reach. How do you determine reach in order to get accreditation? Do we take it a 10,000—50,000, a 100,000? If we do it at 50,000—100,000 then you are turning your back away from smaller bloggers from the provinces, from other communities who don’t have that far reach—

PIA/CNN:                                           And, hindi lang ito bloggers ano, because you’re talking about those na may social media accounts, Facebook—

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                That’s right. Yes. Yes.

PIA/CNN:                                           Yeah.

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                And so we really difficult so the original draft only had 1,000 but there were other qualifiers to ensure that not any Tom, Dick and Harry can be an accredited blogger of Malacañang—

PIA/CNN:                                           So what are those other qualifiers?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                Principle advocacy is the daily dissemination of original news. So he or she should at least produce a news article or an opinion article every day. Publish regularly for a paired of 12 months so I put a period of 12 months.

PIA/CNN:                                           Okay, so parang na-experience kumbaga?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                That’s right. Publications must be editorially independent of any institution connected or affiliated in any manner with the government. So there’s no conflict of interest; must not be involved in prosecuting any claims against government, again conflict of interest. So those were very controversial provisions. I even had that provision for responsibilities. You know guidelines on etiquette in social media, but that was heatly debated during the consultation in UP as well as in following consultations, so we came up with an interim which is at 5,000 which was peg by the Office of Mocha.

PIA/CNN:                                           Yeah. Like what guidelines for etiquette were not agreed on?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                               My office, Policy and Legis Affairs at PCOO proposed that there should be no use of profanity, no sharing of any sexual content, not posting any—you have to post real… will be mindful of what they post.

PIA/CNN:                                           Okay. We’ll go quickly to some questions. This one came into Facebook, Mark Anthony Balino: “What’s standards and ethics of reporting should bloggers abide by, and for not following such, what professional body or institution would they answer to? How can they be held liable for unprofessionalism?” Kanino sila—who will they be answer—who will they be accountable to?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                They will be accountable to the Social Media Office created under Department Order No. 13, which will be headed—which is headed by Asec. Mocha.

PIA/CNN:                                           Hmm. And when you say accountable, there is like what, a punishment or will accreditation be withdrawn?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                That’s correct, accreditation will be withdrawn. So in case the accredited blogger would abuse his privilege or misused it, then that gives the SMO, the Social Media Office authority to withdraw or suspend the accreditation or at the maximum, blacklist the particular blogger.

PIA/CNN:                                           A question from Gio Padilla: “Would you accredit bloggers that are already known to post fake news and other questionable creative content? For example, saying this picture was taken here, but was from an unrelated news item.”

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                No, the policy will not regulate content. So we will not judge the content of what is produced. The qualifier is, under this particular policy, the principal advocacy is regular dissemination of original news and opinion of interest and cover the President. If for example this particular blogger accredited posts fake news, then that may be subject for loss or suspension of accreditation.

PIA/CNN:                                           Okay. Anything else we need to know Kris, about it?

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                I just want to remind everyone that this is an interim probationary, a social media accreditation policy. There’s no major government in the world that actually has—this is a new trail, we’re pioneers here, so we will refine the policy. I understand the concern of mainstream media that there’s not enough guidelines, I mean it’s a wild, wild, west but we have to start somewhere, and this is somewhere. We start with five thousand, they have to do regular dissemination of original content and it may be lost if they abuse it. Later on, we will specify further guidelines. For example, maybe I’ll be able to convince the office to you know, insert a provision on non-posting of fake news, make it clear about that, not to use profanity, make it clear but we will refine it along the way.

PIA/CNN:                                           Alright. Kris Ablan, Assistant Secretary. Thank you very much.

ASEC. ABLAN:                                                Thank you so much for having me.