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Blogger spews claim against Roxas at hearing

Blogger RJ Nieto, known as Thinking Pinoy, attends a Senate hearing on fake news on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. STAR/Mong Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — A blogger claimed at a Senate hearing on Wednesday that former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas paid an influencer to insulate him from backlash over the 2015 Mamasapano encounter, an allegation that Sen. Grace Poe dismissed as hearsay.

Rey Joseph Nieto of political blog Thinking Pinoy alleged that Roxas paid to get the hashtag "NasaanAngPangulo" (where is the president) to trend at the height of the Mamasapano clash, an issue that is still hurled against the Aquino administration more than two years later.

Nieto, citing a source, said a certain Joyce Ramirez made the hashtag, which refers to resident Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and his perceived absence in the aftermath of the clash, a trending topic.

"The #NasaanAngPangulo campaign, based on the information that I got, is a campaign that's intended to pin down all the blame over the Mamasapano incident on former President Aquino apparently so that if Mar runs for the presidency he can be shielded from the bad PR," Nieto claimed.

Roxas, whose department is supposed to have administrative control over the Philippine National Police, had not been briefed on the covert Special Action Force operation against international terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

He chose to stay on the Aquino Cabinet in the aftermath of the encounter between SAF and armed groups in the area that killed around 60 Filipinos. He also lost the elections.

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The hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo trended on Twitter in 2015 after netizens wondered where Aquino was during the welcome honors for the slain Special Action Force members. Aquino reportedly went to the inauguration of a Mitsubishi plant in Sta Rosa, Laguna instead.

READ: Aquino no-show at arrival honors for SAF troopers, goes to car plant

Poe, chair of the Senate committee on Public Information and Mass Media that was holding a hearing on fake news on Wednesday, said Nieto’s allegations against Roxas are "controversial and strong." Poe, who ran against Roxas in the 2016 elections, said Nieto's claims are hearsay unless he can prove them.

'Nieto's claims irresponsible, malicious'

Former presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, who was also at the hearing, decried Nieto’s claims saying he should not make such "irresponsible and very malicious" allegations at the Senate.

"It's a very offensive allegation made by Mr. Nieto here—an allegation that has no basis," Lacierda said.

Lacierda defended the previous administration and denied Nieto's claims saying the officials were present then the remains of the SAF 44 — the name for the commandos killed in the clash — but that Aquino chose to skip the heroes’ welcome as "he wanted the family members to spend time amongst themselves."

Nieto claimed that he has a document that he said came from Ramirez and that listed the #NasaanAngPangulo campaign as one of her accomplishments. He added that Ramirez used the document to advertise herself to political camps during the election campaign.

The Senate panel asked Nieto to provide the documents pertaining to his allegations.

RELATED: LIVE: Senate probe into 'fake news'

SilentNoMorePH 'expose'

Nieto was at the Senate for a hearing on "fake news" that was prompted by very public protestations from seven senators who claimed to have been targeted by SilentNoMorePH, a blog and Facebook group, for not signing a resolution calling on the government to put a stop to killings, especially of teenagers.

The senators said it was malicious to claim they had refused to sign the resolution when they had no chance to do so.

READ: Irked senators hit 'fake news' on not signing EJK resolution

Nieto claimed that a certain Edward Angelo "Cocoy" Dayao is behind SilentNoMorePH and around 20 other websites based on the sites using the same Google AdSense publisher ID. He asked for blanket immunity from suit in exchange for giving senators the list of websites. Senators did not take him up on the offer.

Aside from the yet unsubstantiated allegation against Roxas, Nieto also mentioned the supposed "Lenileaks" controversy from earlier this year. The controversy involves supposed emails by people from the Office of the Vice President discussing destabilization of the Duterte administration.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in January that the Palace would have the supposed plot investigated.

"We will see. I don’t want to jump the gun. I don’t want to be judgmental. It is under investigation. We will do everything to solve this matter," he said.

There have been no updates on the supposed investigation since.

RELATED: Palace to probe alleged emails of Leni backers plotting vs Duterte | Andanar: Robredo not involved in e-mail 'oust' plot but staff may be

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