PNP wants more defined provisions in 'fake news' bill

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 06 2022 05:40 PM

MANILA — The Philippine National Police (PNP) is in favor of criminalizing peddlers of so-called "fake news," but wants it to be defined more clearly in a proposed law to avoid lapses and possible allegations of abuse. 

While the police support Senate Bill 1296 that seeks to amend the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, the proposed law's definition of fake news should include its effects, said PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group deputy chief Brig. Gen. Sydney Villaflor. 

Addressing the Senate justice and human rights committee, Villaflor noted that making or spreading fake news is not covered by the Revised Penal Code.

He said the act should be criminalized especially if false information would cause damage in terms of security and economically, socially or politically. 

“It is advised that mere commission of the acts, or the creation and dissemination of fake news for the purpose of destroying the truth and misleading its audience should not be the sole basis of the prohibition. Clear effects should be added as an element,” Villaflor told the panel.

“This is because if the effect is besmirching or tainting the reputation and honor of a particular person, the acts should be covered by the felony of libel, and intriguing against honor are both punishable under the Revised Penal Code,” he added.

Fake news that do not cause any harm will just die naturally and should not be treated as a crime, he said.

Other PNP officials in the hearing agreed with Villaflor’s statement.

The PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group also pressed for the actual definition of the term “fake news,” as well as who should be held accountable and which sectors would be covered by the bill.

WHAT MEDIA ORGS SAY 

But for media organizations like the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Vera Files and Rappler, criminalizing fake news is not the answer. They instead pushed for a public education campaign. 

Ellen Tordesillas, President of Vera Files also insisted that there is no such term as “fake news” because every piece of news should be based on factual and verified information.

The right terms that must be “misinformation, disinformation and malinformation,” Tordesillas said.

Both NUJP President Jonathan De Santos and Rappler's Gemma Mendoza also expressed fear that the proposed law might further be used to harass journalists.

Mendoza also sees the term "fake news" as arbitrary and worried that any subject of a critical article, even if it is factual, could claim they were the subject of false information.

The journalists also urged the committee to help decriminalize libel to prevent others from using the law to harass journalists. 

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who sponsored Senate Bill 1296 , said the proposed law aims to "put a stop to the proliferation of disinformation and misinformation on the internet." 

He noted that about 9 in 10 Filipino considered fake news as a problem in the the country, based on a Pulse Asia survey in September. 

The Department of Justice meanwhile said criminalizing fake news should have legitimate effects or it could violate one’s constitutional right to freedom of expression.

Those who create or spread fake news should be punished, but not those who share or like online posts, unless they post malicious or libelous comments, the agency said.

Some fake news peddlers were arrested during the COVID-19 pandemic, said National Bureau of Investigation supervising agent Christopher Paz, who failed to provide an exact figure and an update on status of caases. 

Lawyer Gilbert Teruel Andres, Executive Director of the Center for International Law, said a law that criminalizes fake news might also affect films that deal about history or political figures. 

WHAT SENATORS SAY

Meanwhile, Senate justice committee chairman Sen. Francis Tolentino hinted his support for the bill. But he said the panel would still ask the “opinion of the third,” like the judiciary.

He said the bill that the Senate would pass would not be tantamount to “censorship” or regulation of the journalism profession.

“Siguro magkaroon ng greater degree of fact-checking to really ferret out which is correct and which is false para naman yung nagbibigay ng balita na base sa kanilang pananaw ay totoo, ay maprotektahan,” Tolentino said.

“Definitely, hindi tayo payag sa censorship. Freedom of expression as a constitutional right should be protected... There must be a boundary for abuse,” he added.

(Perhaps there will be a greater degree of fact-checking to really ferret out which is correct and which is false, so that those who provide news which they think is true could be protected. Definitely, we do not agree with censorship.)

Possible punishments that Tolentino considers include fines and suspending the privilege to use social media. Imprisonment will depend on the effect of false information, he said. 

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said he was also in favor of punishing those who spread false information with "malicious intent." 

"Merong (there is a) thin line, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, but also responsibility," Villanueva said. 

“Kahit na mali yung ma-report mo, pero you don’t have that intention to report a wrong report, so, hindi ka dapat matakot (you shouldn't worry),” he added.