MANILA (UPDATED) – The National Bureau of Investigation is summoning netizens who air their sentiments on social media about the government's response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said Thursday.
Speaking to ANC, Diokno said his client was summoned to appear before the NBI on April 7 without saying which social media post was being investigated.
"We were not provided a copy of the complaint or any supporting document. We have no idea of the many posts that he made or which ones were supposedly in violation of the law. Basta pinadalhan lang siya ng subpoena," he said.
A portion of the subpoena, however, states that the person will be asked about his "publicly posted article concerning an alleged misuse of government funds", which allegedly violated Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code or the unlawful use of means of publication and unlawful utterances.
Diokno said he intends to personally attend the hearing, saying the NBI summons brings a chilling effect since his client did not post fake news but "fair commentary on matters of public interest."
"I don't think that we have any reason for the government to do that," he said.
"Even in this emergency, we are still entitled to our opinion. We are still entitled to transparency and accountability by the government," he said.
Diokno earlier explained in a separate interview why he took on the case.
“Tinanggap ko ang kasong ito dahil ‘di na makatao ang nangyayari. Ang dami nang namamatay, pati frontliners, pero imbes na COVID, kritiko ang gusto nilang puksain,” he said.
In a statement, the NBI Cybercrime Division said the subpoenas issued by their office are related to their investigation on the proliferation of fake news on the coronavirus.
It said the subpoenas have nothing to do with social media posts "that are critical of the government."
Meanwhile, the NBI confirmed that its cybercrime division has started issuing subpoenas to netizens who post fake news on social media platforms.
“Ang pagkaintindi ko sa investigation division ng computer crimes may ipinadala na silang subpoena. Wala lang akong complete list kung ilan ang exact number because they want to stop 'yung proliferation of fake news,” NBI spokesperson Ferdinand Lavin told ABS-CBN News.
Lavin said the subpoena is for netizens to answer the evidence gathered against them from social media platforms.
Those who fail to appear before the initial subpoena date can request for it to be reset depending on the schedule of the agent and the division.
However, if they still fail to appear on the future date agreed upon, then the NBI will resolve the case with whatever evidence it has on hand.
“Kung sapat 'yung ebidensiya ng NBI, maaaring mag-file ang NBI ng kaso. Parang nagiging waiver of their right ‘yan to refute the evidence against them,” he said.
Lavin also appealed to netizens to stop spreading fake news and instead help the government in responding to the crisis.
“Tigilan na nila 'yung pagkalat ng mga bali-balita o ng ibang komento, 'yung nakakagawa ng confusion, panic sa taumbayan dahil hindi ito nakakatulong. May criminal na pananagutan sila dito. Ang mabuti pa, makipagtulungan sila sa pamahalaan in a positive way, hindi kagaya nitong negative yung kanilang pagtulong na pinapakita,” he said.
Diokno also defended Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto whom the NBI earlier questioned over alleged violations of quarantine protocol when he allowed tricycles to operate in his jurisdiction despite a ban on public transportation.
“Ang habulin dapat ay 'yung mga manloloko, mga scammer, at mga lumalabag sa batas. ‘Wag si Mayor Vico Sotto na ginagawang maayos ang trabaho niya at nagsisilbi sa tao,” Diokno tweeted Wednesday night.
“Ang dami nang namamatay sa COVID, pero inuuna pa nila ang pamumulitika kaysa kapakanan ng taumbayan,” he added in the same tweet.
CRACKDOWN ON FAKE NEWS
Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, Philippine National Police Deputy Chief for Operations, earlier warned people who spread fake news about the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and the Luzon lockdown could face a hefty fine and possible jail time.
“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.
The government earlier denied false information about a total or extended lockdown in Luzon.