Funds for trolls should be used to provide protective gear for COVID-19 frontliners — VP

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 15) — Vice President Leni Robredo called on fellow government officials to provide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) frontliners with protective gear, instead of allocating funds for social media “trolls.”

Parati kong sinasabi na iyong pambayad niyo sa trolls, utang na loob, itulong niyo na muna kasi kailangan na kailangan iyong tulong ngayon. Ibili na lang nila ng protective gear para sa ating mga frontliners,” the vice president said Sunday in ‘Biserbisyong Leni,’ a weekly radio show which she co-hosts with anchor Ely Saludar.

[Translation: I always tell them that the funds they use to pay for trolls should instead be used to provide assistance. They should use it to buy protective gear for our frontliners.]

Robredo went on to mention a photo she saw online of policemen deployed at checkpoints without protective gear amid threats of COVID-19.

Kanina, may nakita akong pictures ng mga pulis sa checkpoint ng... sa may Bulacan yata, sa boundary ng Bulacan—walang protective gear,” she said.

[Translation: Earlier, I saw pictures of police at a checkpoint… It was, I think, in Bulacan, in the boundary of Bulacan — they had no protective gear.]

So ito, pakiusap lang natin, huwag naman tayong—huwag naman nating hahayaan na iyong frontliners natin malalagay sa alanganin. Ang laki ng sakripisyo para sa kanila, pero siguraduhin natin na protected sila.”

[Translation: So this is our request—let’s not allow our frontliners to be put at risk. Their sacrifices are huge, and we should ensure they are protected.]

President Rodrigo Duterte’s government has long been accused by critics of hiring so-called online trolls to spread propaganda and attack opposition.

Recently, international non-governmental organization Reporters Without Borders also released a study which found that supporters of the president are using "call centre hubs" in the country to disseminate "fake or maliciously edited content and fake memes”, as well as to conduct “targeted harassment campaigns."

“Cyber-troll armies, which have become big business ever since Duterte’s 2016 election campaign, support and amplify the messages of members of the government with the aim of smearing the media and manipulating public opinion,” read the study released on Thursday.

Limited equipment for border control

In a media briefing by the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) on Sunday, Chief Debold Sinas denied claims that task force members dealing with border control are being mandated to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for themselves.

Sinas, however, acknowledged that they have limited PPE, and cannot accommodate the whole task force, but he clarified they only encourage personnel to bring own gear if available.

Halimbawa, limited yung gloves na in-issue namin. So sila, kung meron silang gloves, dalhin na nila, gaya ng gloves na pang-motor,” Sinas said.

[Translation: For example, the gloves we issue are limited. So they, if they have gloves, they carry something like motor gloves.]

He also assured that they are actively enforcing preventive measures against COVID-19 among their members.

Asked about the availability of thermal scanners in checkpoints, Sinas said they are still asking the Department of Health for additional supplies. Around half of the 56 checkpoints do not have thermal scanners, according to the NCRPO chief.

Meanwhile, Robredo announced that donations for COVID-19 frontliners have reached some P3-million as of Sunday morning. The donation drive was organized by Kaya Natin!, a non-profit and non-government organization which promotes good governance in the country.

According to the Vice President, this amount would translate to nearly 4,700 PPE sets and would benefit over 150 frontliners in a period of 30 days.

Puwera doon, mayroon ding nag-donate ng food and care packages para sa kanila. So nagpapasalamat tayo doon sa lahat na donors na tumutulong,” she added.

[Translation: Apart from that, people also donated food and care packages for our frontliner. We would like to thank all donors who are extending help.]