The Interior and Local Government Department has ordered the Philippine National Police to track down and arrest more fake news purveyors as they “endanger public order and cause panic.”
DILG chief Eduardo Año issued the order following the arrest of four individuals found spreading false information as the nation confront the deadly Covid-19.
“Inaatasan ko ang PNP-Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) na huwag tantanan ang mga nasa likod ng pagpapalaganap ng fake news. Ang pagkakaaresto sa isang suspek sa Laguna at tatlo pa sa Cebu ay babala sa mga fake news peddlers. We are after you,” Año said.
“The country, and, in fact, the whole world is in a delicate time amid the Covid-19 crisis. Information is power. So, false information is dangerous. Citizens can do their role in this crisis by staying home and using social media and internet with discernment and discipline,” he added.
Año said the PNP must ensure that the investigation and arrest of suspects are within the bounds of law. He assured the public that the DILG and the PNP will protect human rights and freedom of expression but reminded the public not to spread false information that will “cause panic and fan the flames of anxiety and fear.”
DILG Spokesperson and Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said the four arrested suspects face criminal charges for committing Unlawful Use of Means of Publication and Unlawful Utterances punishable under Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code as amended in relation to Sec 4 (c) (4) on online libel and Section 6 of Republic Act No. 10175 known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
The PNP-ACG identified the first suspect as Maria Diane “Maddie” Serrano, a resident of Brgy. Banaynay in Cabuyao City, Laguna after a thorough investigation and verification of the PNP Regional Anti-Cybercrime Unit in Calabarzon.
Serrano is charged for causing panic in the area after spreading false information that a patient positive for COVID-19 was admitted and later died at the Global Medical Center Inc. of Cabuyao.
Meanwhile, the Regional Anti-Cybercrime Unit 7 in Central Visayas has ascertained that three residents of Lapu-Lapu City were spreading unverified information on Covid-19 outbreak in their area. The Lapu-Lapu City PNP and its City Government filed a case on Thursday against suspects Fritz John Menguito, Sherlyn Solis and Mae Ann Pino at the Lapu-Lapu City Prosecutors Office.
“Nananawagan po ang DILG at ang PNP sa ating mamamayan at netizens na maging matino’t disiplinado po tayo sa paggamit ng social media. Hindi po biro ang sitwasyon ngayon ng ating lipunan. Nakataya ang buhay at pampublikong kaayusan. #DisiplinaMuna sa pagpopost at pagsi-share ng balita online,” Malaya said.
“Fake news has taken on pandemic proportions so we ask the public to be circumspect, responsible and not to share fake news,” he added.
The PNP-ACG in Central Visayas, meanwhile, said they will continue to adhere to implement the law and file charges against any netizen caught spreading fake news amid the public health emergency.
Violators face imprisonment of one to six months and a fine ranging from P40,000 to P200,000. They could also be punished under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
They can also be held liable for violating Presidential Decree No. 90, which declares Unlawful Rumor-Mongering and Spreading False Information, which may cause or tend to cause panic, divisive effects among the people, and undermine the stability of the government.
The PNP has earlier formed a task force against fake news online on Covid-19 which aims to run after fake news peddlers.