Updated April 22, 4:55 p.m.
By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA– While Article 3 Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution assures that no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech and of expression, the ‘fake news’ provision under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act can be used to threaten citizens who air out their grievances and criticism against the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic
The Senate and the House of Representatives simultaneously approved March 24 Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020, granting President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to address the current health emergency.
Section 6 (6) of the law penalizes “individuals or groups creating, perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms,” with imprisonment of two months and/or a fine no less than 10,000 pesos.
March 16, 2020: Duterte declares Luzon-wide ‘enhanced community quarantine’ to prevent the coronavirus pandemic to spread further. At the same time, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-IED) orders that journalists should first secure accreditation from the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) within 72 hours in order to enter restricted areas during the quarantine.
March 17, 2020: Journalists, advocates and members of the academe call for the removal of the media accreditation guidelines, and argue that an additional identification is ‘redundant’ and the usual press ID should be enough.
March 21, 2020: Duterte issues Proclamation No. 933 asking the Congress to conduct a special session and deliberate on a proposed bill that would declare a ‘national emergency’ and grant him emergency powers ‘necessary’ to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a similar note, a letter signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea is given to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, asking for the Senate’s own deliberation of the proposed bill.
March 23, 2020: The House of Representatives of the Whole conducts a special session, passing House Bill no. 6616, declaring the country under ‘national emergency’, as well as providing for the executive emergency powers ‘for a limited period and subject to restrictions.’
During the deliberation, netizens reject the idea of granting Duterte emergency powers. Using the hashtag #NoToEmergencyPowers, several netizens point out that approving the proposed bill is an ‘abuse of power’ especially since Duterte has failed to fully utilize existing powers and resources at his disposal.
March 24, 2020: Just a day after getting the approval of the House, the Senate approves Senate Bill no. 1418, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020.
March 24, 2020: Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia had rapper Brandon Perang escorted by police to her office where he was told to ‘apologize’ for his social media post criticizing and cursing Cebu’s 24-hour curfew. Perang made a public apology in a live broadcast press conference, and swore to never do the act again.
March 25, 2020: Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia ‘invites’ Today’s Carolinian‘s editor-in-chief Berns Mitra to her office and challenges him to defend his assertions in an editorial. Today’s Carolinian, official student publication of the University of San Carlos, published an editorial criticizing Garcia’s creation of a special unit tasked on tracing the public’s criticism over the government’s response on the coronavirus.
March 26, 2020: Philippine National Police files charges against four individuals who had allegedly shared false information in their social media accounts. All individuals are now facing charges violating the Anti-Cybercrime Law.
March 27, 2020: In General Santos City, a 55-year-old public school teacher Juliet Espinosa is arrested, along with her teenage son, after she posted a statement criticizing the General Santos City mayor’s incompetence. Authorities said that Espinosa is facing charges violating Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code or Inciting to Sedition.
April 1, 2020: National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) issues a subpoena to a Filipino citizen based on a social media post allegedly questioning the government spending.
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno takes on a case of one of the netizens, and calls out how the government would rather silence critics than deliberate more important matters.
NBI also issues summons to ‘more than a dozen of people’ over their social media posts relating to the coronavirus.
April 2, 2020: Netizens show their dissent online using the hashtag #OustDuterteNow after Duterte’s order to ‘shoot dead’ those violating quaratine protocols. The hashtag lands on the top spot of both Twitter’s worldwide and Philippines trending list with more than 327,000 tweets.
April 2, 2020: During the second episode of Bulatlatan, Josalee Deinla, spokesperson of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), say that the constitutionality of the ‘fake news’ provision can be questioned and contested in the Supreme Court.
April 5, 2020: Joshua Molo, editor-in-chief of University of the East Dawn is threatened with libel and forced to do a public apology for posting critical comments about the administration.
(See: Campus editor threatened with libel for criticizing gov’t response on COVID-19)
April 6, 2020: The Department of Environment and Natural Resources issues a memorandum discouraging its employees from ‘posting and commenting negative in social media.’ The memorandum is issued by DENR Assistant Regional Director for Management Services Marcos Dacanay.
April 6, 2020: PNP arrests over 32 individuals for allegedly spreading ‘fake news’ in social media.The accused are now facing charges of violating “Unlawful Use of Means of Publication and Unlawful Utterances” under Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code.
April 6, 2020: Armed police storm the community kitchen in Sitio San Roque, and intimidate and question the residents about the program and the placards displayed in the area. Policemen confiscate and tear up the placard of the residents’ call for support and aid during the outbreak.
April 15, 2020: Students of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) who spoke against the university’s decision to continue its semester through online classes receive notices from the administration saying that their actions can ‘incur disciplinary action.’
April 19, 2020: Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella orders the arrest of multimedia artist, Maria Victoria Beltran for allegedly violating Art. 154 of the Revised Penal Code in relation to Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Known for her satirical posts, “#DearDigong… Sincerely, Maria,” Beltran’s post satirized reports from the City Health Officer which claims that the whole Sitio Zapatera in Barangay Luz, Cebu City was considered to be infected and thus massive swab testing was to be stopped.
April 19, 2020: Six volunteers of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) are arrested after their jeepney was flagged down by Norzagaray police. Authorities claim that copies of Pinoy Weekly, an alternative news publication and Linang, newsletter of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, are “propaganda materials.”
Vague ‘fake information’ provision will only penalize free speech
Multiple groups question the need and legality of such provision, saying that Section 6 does not even exist legally as fake news is not defined by any existing laws, and approving such provision would leave the contemplation of the ‘crime’ to the hands of the authorities.
See:“Fake news” provision threatens freedom of the press, expression
Digital rights groups also express their concern about this provision, and question the ‘haphazardly approved’ law that penalizes ‘fake news’ under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
“While the provision appears to address the long-standing concern of journalists and activists over false information, which are typically circulated by paid trolling, it can also be used to curtail free speech, especially pieces of information that are critical of the government,” said the groups’ joint statement.
“The damages wrought upon it by fake news prior to the pandemic can only be repaired by promoting critical discourses. Make it healthy by keeping it free.”
April 15, 2020: Students of the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) who spoke against the university’s decision to continue its semester through online classes receive notices from the administration saying that their actions can ‘incur disciplinary action.’