Spreading fake news on coronavirus can land you in prison, PNP warns

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 5) — The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Wednesday warned Filipinos — particularly netizens — against the spread of misinformation on the novel coronavirus, saying fake news peddlers can face possible prison time.

“We will not hesitate to file charges against anyone found spreading false information,” PNP said in a statement.

Authorities said those found spreading false information may face jail sentences of six to 12 years, pursuant to Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Possible violations include Section 6 of the measure or the Unlawful Use of Means of Publication and Unlawful Utterances, it added.

PNP also cited Presidential Decree No. 90 (Declaring Unlawful Rumor-Mongering and Spreading False Information) as a possible violation for fake news sources. However, the decree, which was issued during the martial law era under late former President Ferdinand Marcos, was already repealed through Executive Order No. 65.

It also remains unclear if the group of violators will include those sharing or passing on social media posts.

Meanwhile, PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group Spokesperson Jeck Gamad said officials are now in the process of validating alleged fake news posts online.

Kung sakali po na nalalaman natin na 'di totoo 'yung kumakalat na mga balita, agaran po nating nire-report sa (Facebook),” Gamad said.

[Translation: If we find out that the news are not true, we’ll report it immediately to the platform.]

The National Bureau of Investigation is also set to investigate the supposed fake news on the virus, which has left over 490 people around the world dead in its wake.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, for his part, said he welcomes possible “freedom of speech” arguments against the department’s directive.

“I expect that freedom of speech issues will be raised, but as lawyers we all know that there are limitations to this constitutional right, including the greater interest of the public,” Guevarra said in a message.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Gerg Cahiles and Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.