RSF urges PH to drop complaint vs 2 journalists reporting on coronavirus
MANILA, Philippines – Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Thursday, April 2, called on the Philippine government to drop a complaint filed by the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) against two Cavite-based journalists – Mario Batuigas, owner of Latigo News TV, and Amor Virata, a vlogger and online reporter – for reportedly spreading "false infromation on the COVID-19 crisis."
The complaint filed against Batuigas, Virata, and Noveleta Mayor Dino Reyes Chua alleges they caused "a COVID-19 scare" by spreading false posts on a coronavirus case in Cavite City. The PNP-ACG says this violated section 6(6) of Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, “considering the continuing activity” of a Facebook account to spread false information.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed RA 11469 on March 25, one day after its adoption by the Philippine Congress with the aim of addressing the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawyers said the provision on spreading false information is "dangerous" because its vagueness is prone to abuse. It deals two months of jail time and a fine of up to P1 million to those judged to have violated it.
The two were also alleged to have violated the following:
- Unlawful Use of Means of Publication and Unlawful Utterances under Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code
- RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act, for cyber libel
- RA 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act
- Article 14, Section 7 of the Revised Code on crimes “committed on the occasion of a conflagration, shipwreck, earthquake, epidemic, or other calamity or misfortune” in relation to Duterte’s declaration of a state of public health emergency and a state of calamity in the country
- RA 10173 or the Data Privacy Act
Daniel Bastard, head of RSF's Asia-Pacific Desk, urged Philippine prosecutors to abandon the proceedings.
He said, “The article is supposed to penalize ‘false information’ but this is not a concept that exists in Philippine law, so it poses a major threat to the freedom to inform. During the coronavirus crisis, when information is especially crucial, the authorities must let journalists do their work, regardless of the kind of media they report for."