By Aaron Recuenco
Police said on Wednesday they will file at least two criminal charges against any netizen caught spreading fake news about the 2019 novel coronavirus and the illness associated with it, acute respiratory syndrome (nCoV ARD).
Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, spokesperson of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said the false and unverified information being spread, especially online, is only causing panic and fear among the public amid reports of deaths and the spread of the viral infection.
“Please avoid spreading unofficial, unverified, and unvalidated information on nCoV or face arrest,” Banac said.
Banac gave the warning amid reports of an alleged deluge of fake news and information on social media over the past days. He explained the posting of fake information on nCoV is irresponsible and insensitive because the viral infection is a serious health concern.
Various fake stories about nCoV infections have been reportedly circulating on social media. Among them are fake stories about nCoV-infected people in a particular community or establishment.
Early this week, for instance, a supposed police report of two people infected with nCoV in Batangas circulated online. The Batangas Provincial Police Office denied the authenticity of the police report.
“We will not hesitate to file charges against anyone found spreading false information,” Banac said.
The two cases, he said, are violation of Presidential Decree No. 90, Declaring Unlawful Rumor-Mongering and Spreading False Information; and Unlawful Use of Means of Publication and Unlawful Utterances under Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code in relation to Section 6 of Republic Act No. 10175, or the Anti-Cybercrime Law.
Banac also warned that the penalties for the two charges, including fine and imprisonment, are one degree higher due to the Anti-Cybercrime Law.
“We also urge the public to remain alert and vigilant, and report to authorities anyone spreading fake news,” Banac said.
The PNP’s Anti-Cybercrime Group is tracking down the identity of netizens in connection with six social media posts containing false information on nCoV.
Earlier, police filed a criminal case against a video blogger in Legazpi City who pretended to be an nCoV-infected person and pulled off a stunt in front of a mall there.
Three Chinese in the Philippines have been confirmed to be infected with nCoV. One of them has died, the first case of nCoV-related death outside China.