Leachon files complaint amid fake health ads on social media

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 18) — Dr. Tony Leachon, a newly appointed Department of Health (DOH) special adviser, filed a complaint before the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Friday amid circulating fake advertisements on social media where he was depicted as endorsing unregistered health products in "unscrupulous websites."

In his complaint-affidavit, Leachon said he supports "charging the perpetrators for Computer-Related Identity Theft under Section 4(b)(3) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act or for whatever other action that may be filed against them."

He said unidentified individuals took advantage of his credentials to post advertisements on several websites with unknown authors and managers and on social media to endorse products "falsely claiming to serve as treatment and/or medication for various medical conditions."

"These unscrupulous websites endorsing 'Glufarelin,' 'Grandsure Gold,' and 'JointLab' are all not connected to me, and their use of my image and identity are all unauthorized," he said.

Leachon told the media he has been subjected to such an "unethical practice" for two years and he had gone to then-Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to discuss the issue.

While he did not file a complaint then, he said he gathered pieces of evidence, especially screenshots sent to him by his patients.

"Naka-prepare na 'yong documents ko, lagi na lang ako nagko-correct at ifo-forward sa kanila," he said, pertaining to people who were asking him if the endorsement was true. "Nakakapagod siyang gawin, mapupuyat ka trying to prove na hindi ikaw 'yon, na fake news 'yon."

"At nakakaawa 'yong iba, nadi-disgrasya sila, nao-ospital, gumagastos," he added.

[Translation: My documents are always prepared to be forwarded to them and correct it. It's exhausting, you stay up late trying to prove that it's not you and it's fake news. I pity those who got hurt, were hospitalized, and spent money on these products.]

The "breakthrough" came when incumbent Health Secretary Ted Herbosa ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to coordinate with authorities to file complaints, he said.

In a briefing on July 21, FDA Director-General Samuel Zacate said although investigations are ongoing on online ads with fake endorsers, arrests have yet to happen

"As a responsible citizen and newly appointed DOH special adviser for non-communicable diseases, I think the credibility of the office of the Department of Health, eh, gusto kong protektahan 'yon [I want to protect that]," Leachon said.

"Health is all about information dissemination ng tamang information [that should be true]," he added. "We don't want this particular problem na mag-continue [to continue]."

On June 26, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada filed a resolution to investigate fake online advertisements using celebrities to endorse food and health products.

READ: Senate urged to probe fake online ads using celebrities to endorse food, health products

Aside from Leachon's experience, Estrada cited recent incidents where cardiologist Dr. Willie Ong, as well as celebrities like Sharon Cuneta and Kris Aquino, were victims of fake ads.

Leachon urged senators to revisit the Cybercrime Prevention Act given the advancements in social media, and add more safeguards that would protect the public from unverified health products.

He also urged consumers to check if health items were registered with the FDA, and visit the official pages of celebrities and other personalities if they actually endorse the products.