MANILA, Philippines – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) issued a subpoena April 1 on a Filipino citizen based on a post on March 23 complaining about the government's spending in the fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
NBI Cybercrime Division Chief Vic Lorenzo showed Rappler the exact post of the person, who was represented by human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, but Rappler will not post it for privacy.
Instead Rappler paraphrased the post, so it cannot be traced to the person who has chosen to remain anonymous. Diokno also did not show the post.
The post goes something like: We should speak out when our money is misused or stolen. The government has money to buy a P2 billion business jet, but none for healthcare?
To drive home the point, the post attached the news item of the Department of Health (DOH) calling for volunteer health workers to help in the fight against the coronavirus, side by side with the photo of the government's private jet. The DOH has since said that it was now studying their supplemental budget to compensate healthcare workers.
Purchase of jet a public record
In an earlier exchange with reporters, Lorenzo said: "Either he is an author of fake news or a whistleblower. Kung whistleblower meron kang knowledge that in times of crisis bumibili ang gobyerno ng 2 billion pesos na private jet plane."
(If you're a whistleblower, then you have knowledge that in times of crisis the government is buying a P2 billion private jet plane.)
"So we want that information that he can provide us," Lorenzo said.
But the post did not say that the government bought the jet during the coronavirus crisis.
The Philippine Air Force (PAF) bought the high-end, high-speed, and brand new Gulfstream G280 in October 2019 to serve as an emergency "airborne command post" for government and military leaders.
Pointed out that the post could just be griping about the government's priorities in spending, Lorenzo said: "That's a possible explanation."
Diokno went to the NBI Headquarters Tuesday morning with fellow Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) lawyer Erin Tañada. Diokno did not bring his client.
"Inaasahan namin na sana talagang maayos at patas ang pag-iimbestiga," said Diokno.
(We are hoping for a proper and fair investigation.)
Lorenzo said they have given Diokno until Tuesday next week to submit their formal reply.
The client is being investigated for Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code which punishes the publication of "any false news which may endanger the public order, or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State."
Lorenzo also said it's related to the Cybercrime Law.
The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, or the President's special powers, was not invoked even though it punishes the "spreading" of false information.
The law became effective on March 26. The post was made on March 23.