Revilla declares readiness to tackle ‘fake news’ bill filed by Sotto

Published July 16, 2019, 5:12 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. on Tuesday welcomed the Senate bill seeking to penalize those who spread so-called “fake news”.

Senator Bong Revilla (MB FILE)
Senator Bong Revilla (MB FILE)

Revilla said he is ready to tackle Senate Bill No. 9, filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, should he be elected as the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media in the 18th Congress.

“It is high time we establish a system of responsibility and accountability in new media,” Revilla said in a statement.

“The proliferation and spreading of fake news is a threat not only to political stability, but more importantly, to public and general welfare and national security,” he added.

Sotto, last month, said that Revilla may take the chairmanship of the public information committee in the incoming Congress. He previously held the said panel in the 13th Congress.

In planning to take up the proposed law, the returning lawmaker vowed to consider the constitutional guarantees to freedom of speech, of expression, and of the press.

He assured that the measure to be crafted by the committee will not impinge on human rights, but will “enhance and promote the exercise of these rights.”

But according to Revilla, fake news “distort and poison” the free exchange of ideas guaranteed by the Constitution. Putting an end to fake news will strengthen democracy, he claimed.

“It erodes the quality of the discussion and skews the conversation. We need to put a stop to this virus so that the exchange is healthy and strengthens democracy,” Revilla said.

Sotto’s “anti-fake news” bill proposes to prohibit the publication and proliferation of false content on the internet.

The bill, if passed and signed into law, would give the Office of Cybercrime of the Department of Justice the authority to issue rectification orders, takedown orders, and block-access orders.

It also tasks the Cybercrime Division of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to enforce the act.

In an interview on Monday, the Senate chief reiterated the need to pass a measure that would penalize the spreading of false information and propaganda “because it has become a serious problem nationwide.”

He clarified that the bill would not apply to legitimate media entities whose sources provided wrong information.

“That’s not fake news. What we’re trying to achieve here…is that those who would like to come up with some kind of news of their own through the social media, must follow the ethics of journalists like you. You are responsible; you’re accountable for what you place. Those who use the internet should do the same. If you wanted to post a news story, you make sure that it was verified and true. Now if it is not true, and you posted knowing it is not true, you’re committing a crime in this bill,” Sotto told reporters in a mix of Filipino and English.

Under the bill, any person found guilty of consciously creating or publishing false information to mislead the public; using a fictitious online account or website to publish false information; providing his/her expertise to create misleading content; financing such activity; and refusing to comply with the government’s order to take down the content containing false information, issue necessary corrections, or block users’ access to its websites and social media platforms, will be penalized with imprisonment or fines amounting up to P2 million.

The Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media, during the 17th Congress, conducted hearings on the spread of false information online involving some government officials.

While she proposed to hold liable public officials and employees and bloggers who propagate “fake news”, Senator Grace Poe, then committee chair, raised concern that a new law regulating fake news could violate press freedom and right to free speech.

“Congress cannot legislate thought control. I believe that this destructive and divisive phenomenon can only be addressed by a cocktail of solutions,” Poe had said in one of the panel’s inquiries January last year.

In October 2017, President Duterte said he would not sign a proposed law against fake news as it would be tantamount to censorship.

“I was listening that they (the legislators) would draft a law to set a standard…That’s censorship [of] freedom of expression. It will not pass,” he said during a speech in Malacañang.