PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s administration is upholding the freedom of speech and expression of every Filipino, but will not tolerate the spread of misinformation, especially amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) crisis, a Palace official said.
“This government values every Filipino’s freedom of speech and expression, knowing that they are truly vital toward a free flow of information and constructive and productive discourses,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a statement.
“In the same vein, it values, protects, and upholds press freedom by safeguarding the media environment and the media workers. Such freedoms clearly prove our thriving democracy,” he added.
Andanar made the statement following the claim of United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet that Asian nations, including the Philippines, were using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to clamp down on freedom of expression and to tighten censorship.
Bachelete said people had been fined, arrested and attacked for allegedly spreading misinformation or criticizing the government’s response in countries like the Philippines.
But the Palace official insisted the UN rights chief’s concerns were “unfounded and uncalled for.”
“All operations that the government has undertaken regarding this matter are legal operations that are hinged on the respect for the rule of law and due process as provided by the country’s justice system,” Andanar said.
“Regardless of political or ideological positions, it is to be noted that we have undertaken such measures with transparency, impartiality and accountability; therefore, any arrests that were made were not targeted towards silencing the critics of this administration,” he added.
Andanar lamented that Bachelet had opted to believe “misinformation” amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Without a doubt, global disinformation on matters relevant to social progress and development has created disorder, confusion, and division among communities. Furthermore, this generates effective spaces where corrupt individuals can flourish and exploit the public’s fears and vulnerabilities if left unchecked,” he said.
To combat the spread of misinformation, Andanar said that the government included a provision that penalizes a person and groups that create, perpetrate and spread false information about the coronavirus crisis under Republic Act (RA) 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act
He said the government would not tolerate those taking advantage of the crisis, especially those who are propagating false information.
“It responds to cyber incidents that are taking advantage of the current pandemic situation to prey on the public through illegal activities,” Andanar said.
“When one uses information to deliberately mislead and deceive the general public on relevant matters, possibly leading them to harm, the complications caused by such actions need to be legally dealt with and rectified,” he added.
RA 11469 states that people peddling false information about Covid-19 pandemic could face a two-month jail sentence or a fine ranging from P10,000 to P1 million, or both.