Sen. Bam: Fact-check coalition will strengthen fight against online disinformation, fake news

Senator Bam Aquino welcomed Facebook’s initiative to push through with a local-fact checking coalition aimed at addressing spread of fake news on its platform.

“We’re glad Facebook has decided to enter into a local fact-checking coalition in the aftermath of its failure to protect millions of personal data from being exposed,” said Sen. Bam.

Sen. Bam was referring to Facebook’s move to partner with Rappler and Vera Files for a third-party fact-checking program in the Philippines to prevent fake news from spreading on its social media platform.

“With disinformation spreading like wildfire through social media, it’s encouraging to see Facebook take a stronger stance on this issue and partner with agencies that are genuinely fighting fake news,” added Sen. Bam.

Facebook’s move came days after it was revealed that the accounts of 87 million users worldwide were accessed by Cambridge Analytica, a communications firm accused of harvesting data of millions of Facebook users to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Of that number, around 1,175,870 Filipino users may have had their Facebook information improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, according to Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer.

Sen. Bam actively participated in fake news hearings conducted by the Senate. During one of the hearings, Sen. Bam urged Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar to help fight the spread of fake news through Facebook accounts using the name of President Duterte.

Sen. Bam urged the PCOO chief to police his own ranks, saying blogs written by some of his employees in their private capacity hurt the image of the agency.

Also, Sen. Bam called on both supporters and detractors of President Duterte to stop throwing hate speech at each on social media, saying the environment has become toxic.

When trolls and propagandists occupy the Internet

My name is Bambi and I am a young street dancer awakened by the twerking movement of the 70s… That is, according to Wikipedia before we changed the text back to my true, albeit less vivacious, biography.

Apparently, I have what is now known as an Internet troll changing my Wikipedia page regularly.

My troll made me a Ninja Turtle a few times in the past and, though that is extremely flattering, I unfortunately don’t have the martial arts skills to back it up.

In the curious case of Bam’s Wikipedia page, the untruth is so outrageous that it’s clearly unbelievable.

But in other cases, it is not so easy to distinguish fact from fiction or, dare I say, propaganda.

These days, there are people whose job is to sway public opinion on social media, whether it’s a strategic communications campaign or a swarm of troll accounts flooding a comments section.

While creativity and innovation in marketing and communications is more than welcome, untruth and ill intentions are not easily detected.

The biggest phenomena of the Internet age, social media and search engines, incorporate paid advertising to the user experience and now, money can buy eyeballs as well as people to produce bots and troll accounts to post, like, share, and comment incessantly. Click on a regular troll on any popular Facebook page and you may find him or her lacking a true identity.

Online manipulation

This is a difficult pill to swallow when a large part of me prefers to engage people who genuinely agree or disagree, and are not being paid to do so.

There is a lot of manipulation happening online.

A far cry from the free marketplace of ideas that we envisioned the Internet to be, it has transformed into a lawless arena where gladiators compete for our likes, shares, eyeballs, clicks, and money by whatever means possible.

When we first discovered the World Wide Web, people celebrated the idea that anyone and everyone could use it as a venue to speak out, to share information, to formulate opinions and generate insightful discussions.

We found a space without propaganda or advertising, free from the control and influence of powerful politicians and wealthy businesses.

Today, what we have is a battleground of messages ceaselessly pushing us to buy a product, watch a video, share a meme, or vote for a particular candidate.

The boon and the bane of the Internet is the freedom it provides. Anyone can share information and go viral like the Al-Dub phenomenon and our DOTA2 related post about Team Rave that was shared 3,445 times!

This freedom also allows anyone to mask lies as truth and post it a hundred times from a hundred different accounts until it worms into your psyche.

Campaign season

So how do we take back the Internet?

Should we look at regulation to control trolling or do we leave it up to the websites to ban abusive language and verify identities?

Do we just tune out when confronted with abrasive comments, potentially ignoring opposing ideas that are worth our consideration?

Do we doubt everything we see online and limit our network to a curated circle, wasting the potential of an open, diverse, unpredictable debate?

Will we end up restricting our use of the Internet to that of self-expression?

How do we take the Internet back from the paid trolls and propagandists, especially during the campaign season where candidates have the machinery to invade both traditional and social media?

In our case, we take back our Wikipedia page by checking it everyday and updating it as often as possible. Perhaps, as users, more diligence is required when absorbing information.

Maybe there is a need to evolve our thinking – to be more analytical, to sift through the barrage of messages on the World Wide Web before we come to our own conclusions.

Bambi’s fearless forecast? The more trolls and propagandists attempt to take the Internet away from us, the more we will put up our own filters, exclude them from our circles, take their comments with a pinch of salt and heaps of humor, and find ways to generate free and open spaces for genuine dialogue and exchange of ideas.

First Published on Rappler.com

Statement of Bam Aquino on the Rappler Article about the Balay Banning

While I admit that some members of the LP were surprised by my SET vote, nais kong idiin na ginalang naman nila ang naging desisyon natin at walang sinuman sa partido ang sumubok na impluwensiyahan ako sa kaso.
Ngayon, abala tayo sa pagtiyak na mananalo sina Mar Roxas, Leni Robredo at ang buong LP Senate slate sa 2016 elections.
Ang mga balita-balitang mga ganito ay mga tangka lamang na ilihis ang ating atensiyon. Tuloy-tuloy tayo sa pagpapanalo para kay Mar, Leni, at ang ating LP Senate slate!

The K to 12 challenge

As we welcome a new school year, we are reminded of our need to constantly improve the quality of education for Filipinos across the country.

Aligned with this goal is the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 or Republic Act No. 10533, which was signed into law on May 15, 2013 and resulted in the implementation of the K-12 Basic Education Program.

The last country in Asia with a 10-year pre-university cycle, the Philippines is one of only three, along with Angola and Djibouti, stuck in a 10-year basic education system.

Far from being a quick fix to our laggard status, the K to 12 program was carefully studied and designed by both private and public education stakeholders based on research from other countries and our own local successes and failures in education.

Many would agree that actualizing the K-12 system in the Philippines would result in more young Filipinos equipped with the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to enter the workforce.

And even though there are those that disagree and question whether or not we should transition to a K to 12 education system, this article is not about that.

The challenge we face now, in my view, is not whether we should or shouldn’t, but whether we can or can’t.

Are we ready to bring the K to 12 vision of progressive and transformative education to reality? Are we ready with classrooms and infrastructure to accept 2 more grade levels? Are we ready with the curriculum to move our education system to the world-class standard we have long been aspiring for?

To be fair to the Department of Education (DepEd), they have made progress in terms of infrastructure and curriculum development.

The backlog of 66,800 classrooms in 2010 was addressed with DepEd building over86,478 classrooms from 2010 to 2014 with plans to build over 40,000 more this year.

The shortage of 145,827 teachers in 2010 was addressed with DepEd hiring over 128,000 teachers from 2010 to 2014 with over 39,000 more to be hired this year.

Increased budget

But what about the 25,000 or so teaching and non-teaching staff that will be displaced once the K-12 program is completely implemented? DepEd reports that there will be at least 30,000 teaching positions in public senior high schools open for hiring, not to mention the need for principals and other non-teaching staff.

A P12-billion Tertiary Education Transition fund is also in the pipeline to offer grants, scholarships, and financial assistance to displaced employees so they may be qualified to continue working in the field of education.

With more classrooms and more teachers, congestion in our public schools has gone down and this is evidenced by the big reduction in schools that employ a two, three, even four-shift system. When in 2011, 21.24% of our elementary schools resorted to shifting, only 3% utilized a shifting system in 2014.

(Writer’s Note: Most of the schools that fall under the 3% are located in the National Capital Region (NCR) where DepEd has no more space or land to expand schools and build new facilities.)

Looking at these figures, we can clearly say that tremendous improvements have been made. But, to be frank, not a lot of our citizens know that DepEd has hit these numbers in the last 5 years. In fact, when I go around schools, students still ask me why the government keeps cutting the budget for education.

In truth, we’ve actually increased the budget by over 200% from 2010 to 2015, from P174.75 billion to P364.66 billion.

These gains we have had in the past years put into perpective the ability of DepEd and our education stakeholders to make necessary preparations and improvements in the condition of education across the Philippines. These small victories should give us reason to believe in our ability to overcome challenges in improving the quality of Philippine education, or at least dispel any doubts about our capability to perform.

But the truth of the matter is, even with these numbers facing us, there is so little trust in the government’s ability to implement major reforms. And from the feedback of some of our countrymen, a number of Filipinos don’t believe we can get this done by 2017.

Definitely, there are legitimate concerns that demand solutions. Definitely, a lot of work still needs to be done. Definitely, there will be unforeseen challenges along the way. It will definitely not be easy.

But the good news is, we still have time. There is an entire year before the full nationwide implementation of the K-12 Program and the performance of DepEd thus far gives us enough reason to trust that we can get this done together.

Now is the time for our communities to get involved. Now is the time for the private sector to offer their expertise and resources. Now is the time for all of us to get behind a program that will empower our youth with knowledge and skills that can propel them and their families to live better, more comfortable, and more meaningful lives.

Now is not the time to hit the brakes on a national reform we desperately need and have been working towards for the past years. Now is not the time to prematurely declare that we cannot make it happen. We have a year to implement this major education program and DepEd has asked for our help (For concerns and suggestions, email action@deped.gov.ph or call (02)636.1663 / (02)633.1942.)

For those who believe that we need to improve our educational system in the Philippines, this is our chance. We must not miss another opportunity to raise the level of our education to one that is world class. Let us support DepEd in creating a better, more robust, more effective, and more progressive education system for our young Filipinos through the K to 12 Basic Education Program.

First Published on Rappler.com

A glimmer of hope for the SK

After years in the legislative back-burner, there is a glimmer of hope for the reforms needed by the beleaguered Sangguniang Kabataan.

A number of youth leaders, including former SK members themselves, have been calling for the overhaul of the SK system, while battling the sentiment to just scrap the system altogether.

In the last month, leading up to a 2nd postponement of the SK elections, senators and congressmen finally agreed to move forward with the necessary reforms so that the SK assuming office next year will be unburdened with a flawed system and instead have the hope for success with much-needed reforms in place.

In the end, both houses decided to work together and simultaneously postpone the SK elections for 2016, while committing to passing the reforms asap.

This was the compromise made by the senators who were pushing for radical systemic reforms with the congressmen who leaned towards abolishing the youth representation mechanism.

Fulfilling its side of the bargain, the Senate passed the SK Reform Bill last February 9, with game-changing reforms that will surely rock the boat (if not eventually, the vote) in 2016.

The four main reforms are: 1) adjusting the age of the SK officers; 2) making leadership training mandatory; 3) inserting a broad and far-reaching anti-political dynasty provision; and 4) creating a Local Youth Development Council body to further support the SK as its advisory council.

The first reform is the most basic one, and seeks to correct a mistake that legislators made in 2002, when they brought the age of the SK down to 15-17 from 15-21.

With the reform bill, the age of SK officials will now be at 18-24 years old. This coincides with the usual age that current youth leaders are in. Because this new age range is within the legal age, the officials are now legally capable of entering into contracts, and consequently, can be held accountable and liable for their actions.

Another reform is mandating that the officials undergo leadership training programs to expose them of best practices in governance and to guide their development as leaders.

During a forum in the Far Eastern University (FEU), Kenneth, a former SK chairman from Batangas, expressed his approval and hope with these proposed changes. He mentioned running for SK chairman at the age of 16 and having no clue what to do once elected.

Attracting older, more responsible, and more experienced candidates and bolstering their skills with training are necessary reforms that will get universal support.

The third reform, though, may be contentious but can be a major game-changer. The Senate was bold enough to include an anti-dynasty provision in our SK Reform Bill.

In many cases, young members of political families feel pressured to run for office, whether or not they see themselves as qualified.

On the other hand, youth leaders that are motivated to serve the community are discouraged to run for office when their opponents are related to incumbents.

The current provision bars relatives within a second level of consanguinity to all elected and most appointed officials from sitting as SK officials.

In short, gone will be the days that the son or daughter of the barangay captain or even the mayor can vie for the SK post.

I am hoping that our counterparts in Congress can also support this major reform which, in my estimation, can truly overhaul the current system.

More effective body

The fourth major reform is not as sexy or controversial but is close to my heart. When I was in the National Youth Commission over a decade ago, the more successful youth structure on the ground was not the SK but the Local Youth Development Council (LYDC) that was established in some areas.

The LYDC served as the more active and effective body that helped the LGU with programs, projects and policies that were for the youth of the locality. It was composed of youth representatives from student councils, Church and faith-based groups, youth-serving organizations, and community-based youth groups.

The SK was part of this council that was a broad representation of youth leadership and development in the area.

The basic idea here was that if the SK officials were not isolated, and instead, dealt with other youth leaders, they would tend to be less traditional and instead be more rooted with their constituents.

In the current reform bill, LYDCs are mandated and will be formed to work hand in hand with the SK.

LYDCs can help fix the quality of SK programs and projects in their localities.

The National Youth Commission is tasked with making the Philippine Youth Development Plan which serves as an overall plan for the youth with respect to the executive branch of government. But because this is not cascaded properly through the appropriate channels, it often remains as a wonderful policy paper that is not made tangible on the ground.

With the LYDC structure though, the NYC now has a mechanism to ensure that its national plans have a way to cascade, be localized and reach more young Filipinos through actual programs and projects on the ground.

Pasay, Naga, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro, among others, have already adopted the LYDC model.

These reforms will hopefully move the SK toward a merit system that values competency and away from patronage politics. We hope that these changes can bury ineffective practices and give rise to a tangible and measurable impact for the youth sector.

We are hopeful that this can be the beginning of a renewed Sangguniang Kabataan that reignites true community service, volunteerism, passion, and excellence within the Philippine government.

The Youth Development and Empowerment Act or Senate Bill 2401, with the reforms stated above, was passed on its third and final reading in the Senate.

Congress will release their committee report within two weeks. With even more young people backing these reforms, I am hopeful that we can finally pass the SK reform bill before the end of March.


First Published on Rappler.com

The best gift to Filipino graduates

Every March, as I attend graduation ceremonies, I get a rush of inspiration seeing so many young Filipinos reach a major milestone and life achievement – completing their studies.

We can see both pride and relief in their eyes. They exchange hugs and high fives, happy to be free from the shackles of their terror teachers.

Parents, too, beam with delight as they applaud the end of tuition fees and other school-related expenses.

This year, about 700,000 fresh graduates will be scouring newspaper advertisements, join job fairs, sign up on online job websites, visit companies and inquire about possible employment vacancies.

A number of these graduates will find jobs in the Philippines; a number will find jobs abroad. Some will work in a formal company; others will be working more informally. And unfortunately, some will join the ranks of the unemployed.

This is the unfortunate milieu our 2015 graduates are entering. We need to build a bridge between education, and employment and entrepreneurship, and we need to fill in the gap at the soonest possible time.

In the case of New Zealand’s Ministry of Education, they created an agency called Careers New Zealand (NZ) to bridge this gap by working with both the private sector and educational institutions.

They determine the qualifications demanded by the workforce then ensure that the right skills and expertise is developed in schools. Therefore, graduates match the job opportunities in the market.

Inspired by New Zealand, our office is currently working with Generoso Villanueva National High School in Bacolod to match the needs of the job opportunities in their area, which include call centers and HRM opportunities, to the skills that they are teaching to their students.

Offering alternatives

To scale this up, Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Armin Luistro committed to establish placement offices in public high schools in the K to 12 system, upon our suggestion during the budget deliberations of DepEd in the Senate.

But with the lack of jobs to fill in the first place, we need to offer more alternatives to our young graduates, and entrepreneurship should be a viable option for them.

Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) compose 99.6% of total establishments in the Philippines and contribute 61.2% of the country’s total employment. Already, MSMEs play a vital role in providing livelihood and prosperity to millions of Filipinos.

Entrepreneurship can also serve as a means for our unemployed youth sector to pave their own way out of poverty and into financial independence. Not to mention, they can create more job opportunities for their peers.

The Department of Trade and Industry is now establishing 100 Negosyo Centers all over the country this year with our recently enacted Go Negosyo Act, which will consolidate all efforts in assisting starting and current small business owners.

Potential clients can access help in business registration, financing, product development, financial management and market linkage from these Negosyo Centers.

We also authored and sponsored the Youth Entrepreneurship Bill, which aims to expose our Filipino youth to entrepreneurship at a young age and give them a good foundation for business creation in the future.

If enacted into law, course programs in entrepreneurship will be developed for primary, secondary and post-secondary schools to give them basic knowledge on financial literacy and how to start and run their own businesses.

Moreover, the bill aims to create a fund and support structures to aid starting entrepreneurs in their product development, access to capital, training and other services, to help them establish their own enterprises.

The Youth Entrepreneurship Bill was passed on third reading in the Senate and was passed on second reading in the House of Congress recently.

With our improving economy, there is no better time than now to empower our youth with the values and skills of innovative entrepreneurship.

I am hopeful that the Philippines can offer our wide-eyed, idealistic, and well equipped graduates a wealth of opportunities – from job openings in successful institutions to the possibility of putting up a thriving business around their innovative, world-class ideas.

Firs published on Rappler.com

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