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At Senate, blogger airs complaints about employer DFA

Thinking Pinoy blog administrator Rey Joseph Nieto, a social media consultant for the Department of Foreign Affairs, answers questions at a Senate hearing on fake news on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. STAR/Mong Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — After likening his job at the Department of Foreign Affairs to that of "slaves," the publisher of blog Thinking Pinoy claimed on Wednesday that the agency needs him more than he needs the agency.

During the Senate probe into the proliferation of fake news on Wednesday, blogger Rey Joseph Nieto admitted he is offering consultancy services to the DFA-Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs.

Nieto, who earns P12,000 monthly for the part-time job, called his salary a “pittance.”

“If I were just given a choice, I don’t want to work in DFA. Parang alila lang kami dun. I only get P12,000. It’s not even enough to pay for taxi. It’s just DFA needs me more than I need them and I want to help the government succeed,” he said.

Nieto, known for his hard-hitting posts against critics of the Duterte administration on his online platforms, said he is only helping the DFA because he wants to lend his platform to reach overseas Filipino workers. He also claimed his Facebook engagement rate is equal to those of Inquirer and Rappler.

“I just help communicate updates of the OMWA to OFWs and that’s it,” he said. 

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Thinking Pinoy has 650,000 likes on Facebook and around 42,000 followers on Twitter.

In a message to reporters, the DFA distances itself to Nieto’s statements.

“That is Mr Nieto's personal opinion, so the DFA will not comment on that,” DFA spokesperson Rob Bolivar said.

In June, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines condemned Nieto for allegedly putting the life of a photojournalist covering the siege of Marawi City in danger.

In a blog article posted on June 18 titled, “Jez Aznar, Get Out of Mindanao for Your Own Good,” the site criticized the photographer for allegedly revealing the sniper positions of Philippine soldiers in a video posted on a social media website.

Thinking Pinoy said that the video “compromised the safety and tactical advantage of AFP snipers.”

READNUJP condemns blogger for endangering photojournalist covering Marawi

Aznar, however, did not disclose the movement of troops in the conflict-stricken city nor did he released his images live.

Free speech

Sen. Francis Pangilinan criticized Nieto for administrating Thinking Pinoy while he is working for DFA.

The senator also reminded him that he should observe political neutrality and the standards of professional conduct as a government worker.

“You are now bound by the Code of Conduct so you may have to rethink, you have to choose,” Pangilinan said. “My view is you have to decide: do I want to be a consultant or just be a blogger?”

Nieto hit back, saying senators should also observe political neutrality. Senators, however, are elected officials identified with specific political affiliations.

Shrugging off concerns of conflict of interest, Nieto believes there is nothing wrong with him offering consultancy services to DFA and writing political pieces in his opinion blog. He also insisted that he does not think he “should be nicer to people on his personal blog.”

He asserted his right to free speech.

“With all due respect, I think I don’t lose my right to free speech when I joined DFA,” Nieto said.

“Thinking Pinoy is a political opinion blog and I like imagining scenarios based on what I think is how people would act. I try to understand human nature, he said.

But for Pangilinan, free speech is not absolute.

Nieto also noted that being a consultant for DFA does not make him a government official.

Civil Service Commission Resolution 97-4179 described a consultant as a person who provides professional advice on matters within the field of his special knowledge or training.

The same resolution states that there is no employer-employee relationship in the engagement of a consultant but that of a client-professional relationship; thus, consultancy services are not considered government service.

“So when I broadcast stuff on my Facebook page, that is Rey Joseph Nieto speaking, the regular citizen. But when I give advice to OMWA and that’s where my job kicks in,” Nieto said.

But Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV told Nieto that his job, regardless of his employment status, comes with responsibility.

“You’re not just an ordinary blogger. You are with the government now,” Trillanes said.

Nieto vowed to resign if he is found breaking the law. 

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