Philippine President Hires Back Controversial Social Media Star

Jeoffrey Maitem
Cotabato, Philippines
190930-PH-Mocha-USon-1000.jpg Esther Margaux “Mocha” Justiniano Uson, a former presidential communications assistant secretary, talks to reporters after arriving at the Commission on Elections office in Manila to register for the May 2019 mid-term election, Oct. 15, 2018.

President Rodrigo Duterte reappointed to his administration a social media star who has faced allegations of spreading fake news online against political opponents of the Philippine leader, according to documents publicly released on Monday.

Esther Margaux “Mocha” Justiniano Uson has been named deputy executive director of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, an agency under Department of Labor and Employment, as shown in a list of names of appointees publicized by the presidential palace.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo and Uson herself confirmed the appointment, which puts her directly in contact with millions of Filipino overseas voters, who represent a huge voting bloc for Duterte and his allies.

“It looks like I will get more white hair soon,” Uson said in a message posted on social media.

Uson, 37, runs a Facebook page, which has more than five million followers. She started online out by giving her followers advice related to sexuality, but parlayed her enormous social media popularity into helping prop up Duterte’s candidacy. He named her assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office when he took office in 2016.

Uson attacked Duterte’s political opponents online, and was known to run unverified posts that earned her the moniker as the “queen of fake news” in the Philippines. She was asked to step down from her radio show for using profanity, and quit her first government post last October.
She ran for congress in May, but lost.

In accepting the new post, Uson said she hoped that her appointment would give her time to work on the needs of the migrant Filipinos, who number upwards of four million.

An opposition congressman, Ferdinand Gaite, slammed Uson’s appointment. He said it was “illegal and should not be enforced” because, he noted, the 1987 Constitution bars losing candidates from being assigned to a government post within a year of polls.

Panelo defended Uson, saying she was excluded from the appointment ban because she had run as a party-list representative.

“[P]arty-list nominees are not covered by the one-year ban,” he said, citing a resolution by the Commission on Elections.

After she became assistant secretary of the presidential communications office in May 2017, Uson figured in a series of controversies. She often used her Facebook account to stir up criticisms against Duterte’s political enemies.

Last year, she drew flak when she posted an online video of a friend imitating sign language, which many Filipinos interpreted as disrespectful to the deaf and mute community.

Jojo Rinoza contributed to this report from Dagupan City, Philippines.


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