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Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to track and arrest more fake news purveyors as “they endanger public order and cause panic” even after the police recently arrested four individuals for spreading fake news during this time of national emergency caused by COVID-19.

“Inaatasan ko ang PNP-Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) na huwag tantanan ang mga nasa likod ng pagpapalaganap ng fake news. Ang pagkakaaresto sa isang suspek sa Laguna at tatlo pa sa Cebu ay babala sa mga fake news peddlers. We are after you,” said DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año on Friday.

“The country, and, in fact, the whole world is in a delicate time amid the Covid-19 crisis. Information is power. So, false information is dangerous. Citizens can do their role in this crisis by staying home and using social media and internet with discernment and discipline,” he pointed out.

Año said the PNP must ensure that the investigation and arrest of suspects are within the metes and bounds of the law. He assured the public that the DILG and the PNP will protect human rights and freedom of expression but reminded the public not to spread false information that will “cause panic and fan the flames of anxiety and fear.”

Criminal charge

According to DILG spokesperson and Undersecretary Jonathan E. Malaya, the four arrested suspects are now facing criminal charges for committing Unlawful Use of Means of Publication and Unlawful Utterances punishable under Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code as amended in relation to Sec 4 (c) (4) on online libel and Section 6 of Republic Act No. 10175 known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

The PNP-ACG identified the first suspect as Maria Diane “Maddie” Serrano, a resident of Brgy. Banaynay in Cabuyao City, Laguna after a thorough investigation and verification of the PNP Regional Anti-Cybercrime Unit in Calabarzon.

Serrano is charged for causing panic in the area after spreading false information that a patient positive for COVID-19 was admitted and died at the Global Medical Center Inc. of Cabuyao.

Meanwhile, the Regional Anti-Cybercrime Unit 7 in Central Visayas conducted fact-checking that three residents of Lapu-Lapu City were behind the spreading of unverified information on Covid-19 outbreak in their area. The Lapu-Lapu City PNP and its City Government filed a case on Thursday against the suspects namely Fritz John Menguito, Sherlyn Solis, Mae Ann Pino at the Lapu-Lapu City Prosecutors Office.

“Nananawagan po ang DILG at ang PNP sa ating mamamayan at netizens na maging matino’t disiplinado po tayo sa paggamit ng social media. Hindi po biro ang sitwasyon ngayon ng ating lipunan. Nakataya ang buhay at pampublikong kaayusan. #DisiplinaMuna sa pagpopost at pagsi-share ng balita online,” Malaya said.

“Fake news has taken on pandemic proportions so we ask the public to be circumspect, responsible and not to share fake news,” he added. (DILG)