MANILA, Philippines – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has summoned "more than a dozen people" over their social media posts related to the coronavirus.
"I understand more than a dozen," NBI Deputy Director Ferdinand Lavin told reporters on Thursday, April 2.
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno has taken on the case of one of those summoned, whose post was about the "alleged misuse of government funds" related to the response to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Diokno said his client is unaware which post was in question.
In an interview on ANC on Thursday, Diokno described his client as "just a guy who’s concerned about what’s happening."
The subpoena to Diokno's client cites 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."
It is unclear at this point if the NBI's investigations are all anchored on Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code or if Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act will be invoked at some point.
On February 4, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra signed a Department Order authorizing the NBI to investigate "alleged deliberate spread of misinformation and fake news" related to the coronavirus.
The DOJ and NBI have yet to respond to reporters' clarifications.
The Bayanihan Law, which took into effect March 26, punishes under Section 6(6) the "creating, perpetuating, or spreading false information regarding the covid-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid or beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion."
Because penal laws cannot apply retroactively, posts made before March 26 should not be covered under the Bayanihan Law.
But the DOJ has justified the theory of continuing crime for cybercrimes before – saying that a post deemed to be criminal continues to be a crime as long as it is still up on the internet.
Asked about the non-retroactivity of the Bayanihan law, Guevarra earlier told reporters, "Penal provisions of any law are not applied retroactively unless the offense is a continuing one and its commission has not been stopped."
Diokno said he took on one of the cases because he found it inhumane.
“Tinanggap ko ang kasong ito dahil 'di na makatao ang nangyayari. Ang dami nang namamatay, pati frontliners, pero imbis na COVID, kritiko ang gusto nilang puksain,” said Diokno.
(I took on this case because what's happening is already inhumane. So many people, even frontliners, are dying but instead of the coronavirus, it's the critics they want to destroy.)
The Constitution guarantees the right to free speech. In jurisprudence, government regulations may restrict free speech but it must have a compelling state interest. One of the tests to determine this is the presence of a clear and present danger to the public.
Defending his order to NBI on February 4, Guevarra said the clear and present danger is "causing undue panic and alarm in part, but also undermining government efforts for a unified and coordinated approach to a common threat that affects us all." – Rappler.com