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Filipino priest accuses Duterte of using trolls to smash critics

President comes under fire amid an online campaign to discredit his deputy and chief critic Leni Robredo

Filipino priest accuses Duterte of using trolls to smash critics

Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo has become the target of a smear campaign by internet trolls. (Photo: AFP)

A Catholic priest in the Philippines has condemned what he called an online mudslinging campaign instigated by President Rodrigo Duterte against the opposition's standard-bearer, Vice President Leni Robredo.

Recent Facebook posts by trolls calling Robredo an “inutile” and “worthless” leader were likely funded by the Duterte administration, according to Father Norberto Garido, a parish priest from Lucena Diocese, south of Manila.

“Now that election time is getting nearer, trolls are once again active to try and destroy those who speak against or criticize President Rodrigo Duterte. Trolls are responsible for spreading fake news. Let us all be standard-bearers of the truth, not lies,” Father Gardio told the press on June 22.

“Trolls have victimized not just the vice president but many other individuals who criticize Duterte policies such as extrajudicial killings. Every time a person criticizes this administration, trolls flood social media with derogatory remarks to bully them.” 

Vice presidents in the Philippines run for office on a separate ticket from the president, meaning the country's leader could end up — as in the present case — with a political opponent as their deputy. 

Opposition lawmakers recently pushed for an investigation into alleged government involvement in “troll farms” — groups of internet trolls that seek to influence political opinions and decision-making.

If public time and resources are involved, it is not just wasting taxpayers’ money, it’s a criminal act to malign and harass anyone who criticizes the Duterte administration

They believe government funds are being squandered to pay such groups to target Duterte’s opponents.

“If public time and resources are involved, it is not just wasting taxpayers’ money, it’s a criminal act to malign and harass anyone who criticizes the Duterte administration,” lawmaker Carlos Zareta told the Philippine Star daily.

Troll farms are a danger to the country’s democracy because they can shape public opinion and voter behavior based on fake news and derogatory remarks, he said.

Like Zarate, Father Garido said Christians should not support any politician who is not an advocate of the truth.

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He cited a report saying Duterte spent millions of pesos on troll farms during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“The University of Oxford discovered the Duterte camp spent 10 million pesos [US$200,000] on a social media campaign that included creating fake social media accounts to attack critics,” Father Gardio said.

“Money spent on this kind of campaign should rather be spent on improving the livelihoods of the people, especially now that many Filipinos have no jobs due to mass retrenchment. Why invest in spreading fake news to mislead the public if the money can feed thousands of hungry families?”

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