DOJ chief tells public to stop spreading holiday lockdown rumors

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 08 2020 07:06 PM

DOJ chief tells public to stop spreading holiday lockdown rumors 1
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has some advice to those who were alarmed by rumors that spread about a possible “holiday lockdown”: stop spreading wrong information and wait for official word.

“I advise netizens to just wait for statements from official sources rather than pass the rumor around. The more the rumor circulates, the faster it assumes the illusion of truth,” he said in a statement to the media Tuesday.

Several messages have been going around social media warning of a possible lockdown supposedly from December 23 this year to January 3 next year.

Government officials have denied that such a lockdown is in the offing, with Guevarra saying “that was obviously fake news.”

The justice secretary said he would not ask the National Bureau of Investigation to look into who are behind the spread of the rumors as of yet, unless there are indications the misinformation is deliberate.

“For as long as the government could quash all of these false information through the usual communication channels, I will reserve the resources of the NBI for more urgent and critical investigations,” he said. 

“However, if there are signs that misinformation about the COVID-19 situation are deliberate and coordinated to create public unrest or sabotage the economy, I will immediately deploy the NBI to intervene and find out who are perpetrating this malicious misinformation,” he added.

In February this year, a month before the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, Guevarra himself threatened to go after fake news peddlers of information on the coronavirus and ordered the NBI to investigate them.

He said he personally observed on social media a slew of communications that “tend to sow panic and confusion” regarding the health crisis.

By early April or just 2 weeks into the lockdown, the NBI had issued 17 subpoenas over fake news about the pandemic, a move criticized by human rights lawyer Chel Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group because these supposedly included those who were only airing their sentiments about the Philippine government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, allegedly suppressing freedom of expression. 

In June, Guevarra ordered the NBI to monitor the spread of misinformation on social media after Vice President Leni Robredo complained of social media posts falsely claiming she allegedly gave hospital workers spoiled food.

In July, Senator Christopher "Bong" Go, through a lawyer, filed a complaint with the NBI against a college student who allegedly shared a possibly libelous post against him, prompting the NBI to invite him for questioning.

Even Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Administrator Mocha Uson was not spared by the NBI’s investigation. 

She was summoned due to a Facebook post in April that showed a photo of personal protective equipment which she claimed the government had purchased.

But according to social media users, it was actually sourced from a private foundation. Uson, who has several times been scored for spreading wrong information online, said it was an “honest mistake.”

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