MANILA - A hefty fine and possible jail time await those behind fake news spreading on social media about the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and the Luzon lockdown, a top police official warned Saturday.
Philippine National Police Deputy Chief for Operations Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, who also heads Joint Task Force Coronavirus Shield, said authorities would hunt down those behind false information about the health crisis.
“May naaresto na nga tayong apat. Pero gusto nating ipaalala dito sa mga kababayan natin na walang magawa, na instead makatulong ngayong pagkakataong ito ay gumagawa ng kalokohan, mahahanap namin kayo,” Eleazar said during the government’s Laging Handa press briefing on COVID-19 response.
(We have arrested four people. But we would like to remind the public who have nothing better to do, those who are causing trouble instead of helping out at this time, we will find you.)
Criminal charges have been filed against 4 people—3 from Cebu and 1 from Laguna—for spreading fake news on social media about the COVID-19 outbreak.
Among false information that have recently been making rounds online are those that stir panic, including reports of a total or extended lockdown. Government has denied these.
Eleazar said those who will be arrested will face charges, specifically for violation of the Revised Penal Code’s Article 154 or the unlawful use of means of publication and unlawful utterances.
He added that the recently passed Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which granted government additional powers to address the crisis, has also paved the way for stricter penalties for violators.
“Kung kayo ay mahuling nagpapakalat ng fake news puwede po kayong magbayad ng P1 million at arestuhin at makulong ng dalawang buwan. Naghahanap pa kami ng ibang offense para sa inyo, tandaan n’yo po ‘yan,” he said.
(If we catch you spreading fake news, you can be fined up to P1 million and get arrested and jailed for two months. We are looking for other offenses we can file against you, remember that.)
Meanwhile, Eleazar reminded authorities against using physical punishment on those violating curfew laws.
“Sinasabi namin sa commanders on the ground na wala dapat physical punishment sa kanila. ‘Di dapat binibilad, pinapalo o anuman, 'yan ang aming iimbestigahan,” he said.
(We remind our commanders on the ground that there should be no physical punishment [of curfew violators]. They shouldn't be made to stay under the sun, hit or anything, we will investigate that.)
He said they will no longer arrest curfew violators but would instead get their information for future filing of charges after the crisis and penalized under local ordinances.