Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo M. Año on Monday ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to immediately investigate and arrest those responsible for spreading fake news about the 2019 novel Coronavirus (nCoV) to the public.
“We will go after the perpetrators of false information on coronavirus because their acts are inimical to the interest of the general public,” Año said.
“We need to put a stop to their nuisance activity. Let’s not propagate erroneous information that is more viral than the virus itself. We already have enough on our plate. Hindi po sila nakakatulong sa paglutas ng ating problema bagkus mas pinapalala pa nila ang problema,” he added.
He said the PNP would not hesitate to put behind bars all individuals or groups who are guilty of spreading false information on the issue on various social media platforms.
“Freedom of expression has limitations, especially when its exercise threatens the welfare of the public. We must put an end to fake news on social media. Kaya sa mga sinasadyang magpakalat ng fake news, stop now before we lock you up,” Año warned.
DILG Spokesperson and Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said that the DILG itself was a victim of fake news when an infographic allegedly coming from the DILG was created and distributed last Friday alleging that the Department has decided to place on mandatory quarantine all travelers from 23 countries who have confirmed nCoV cases.
“The unauthorized and patently illegal infographic went viral and caused panic among travelers who wanted to cancel their travel plans because of the misrepresentation of these people. It has become absurd and worrisome,” he said.
“Again, we urge the public to trust only official sources of information and to verify first before sharing. Think first before you click,” he added.
He said that the PNP’s Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG), which investigates crimes using Information and Communications Technology (ICT), is capable of tracing and tracking fake news perpetrators on the Internet. It is currently verifying six suspected fake news posts on the coronavirus on social media.
“The PNP-ACG is working hard to detect the whereabouts of these law offenders. We expect arrests to be made soon,” said Malaya.
He said that Article 154 on the “Unlawful Use of Means of Publication and Unlawful Utterances” of the Revised Penal Code punishes perpetrators of fake news. The same provision penalizes a person who causes the publication of any false news which may endanger the public order, or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State. 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 Republic Act 10175, otherwise known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
“These laws are created for a reason — to punish law offenders,” said Malaya.“Paalala lang sa mga nagpapakalat ng mga maling balita na tigil-tigilan na ninyo iyan at makiisa na lang sa pamahalaan sa pagsugpo at pagresolba ng suliraning ito,” he added.