A group of journalists said that, under the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act”, which penalizes jail time and a fine on fake news purveyors, the law has given the Duterte government undue authority to determine what is true or otherwise.
The statement, signed by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Rappler, Vera Files, Philstar.com, and several other individuals, referred to Section 6(6) of the law which penalizes “individuals or groups creating, perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid of beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion; and those participating in cyber incidents that make us or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts.”
Based on the Bayanihan law, it also sets a penalty of two months jail time or a fine of P10,000 to P1 million or both, at the discretion of the courts.
“Section 6(6) seeks to punish people for an offense that, legally, does not even exist. In effect, the law will leave it up to the government to be the arbiter of what is true or false, a prospect that cannot invite confidence given that many administration officials, including the chief executive, have been sources of disinformation and misinformation,” the statement read.
“While we acknowledge the need to fight disinformation in this time of crisis, we fear the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act will only end up criminalizing free speech. We assert that the best way to fight disinformation is through education and the truth,” the statement added.
The group of journalists also cited the case of Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia who made one of her constituents, Brandon Perang, swear an oath to obey the law after Perang made fun of the government’s efforts against the pandemic on social media.
“In times of crisis, when the swift delivery of accurate information to our people is vital, we need more, not less, independent reporting. Section 6(6) and the accreditation requirement imposed on media will result in the opposite, to the detriment of our people,” the group said.
“To the community of independent journalists, let us tighten our ranks and stand firm in opposing any restrictions on the free performance of our duties. To all freedom-loving Filipinos, stand with us in defending freedom of the press and of expression and your, the people’s, right to know,” the journalists also said.
President Rodrigo Duterte was given emergency powers by both the Senate and the House of Representatives upon passage of the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act” which the President immediately signed, supposedly to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic./Stacy Ang