Philippine economy

Senate bill seeks jail time for gov’t officials spreading fake news

Camille Elemia

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Senate bill seeks jail time for gov’t officials spreading fake news
Under Senate Bill 1492, any person found guilty will be punished with a fine ranging from P100,000 to P5 million and one to 5 years imprisonment, while public officials will be subjected to stiffer penalties

MANILA, Philippines – A Senate bill has been filed seeking to penalize any person or entity creating and circulating false news in print, broadcast, or social media, with public officials getting stiffer penalties.

Senator Joel Villanueva filed Senate Bill 1492 or An Act Penalizing the Malicious Distribution of False News and Other Related Violations on Wednesday, June 21.

Under the measure, false news is classified as “an information causing or tending to cause panic, division, chaos, violence, hate,” and those “exhibiting or tending to exhibit “a propaganda to blacken or discredit one’s reputation.”

“The passage of this bill will encourage our citizens, especially public officers, to be
more responsible and circumspect in creating, distributing and/or sharing news.
Addressing national and global concerns should not be made more complicated by
false news calculated to cause disunity, panic, chaos and/or violence,” Villanueva said in his explanatory note.

“The effect of fake news should not be taken lightly. Fake news creates impression and beliefs based on false premises leading to division, misunderstanding and further exacerbating otherwise strenuous relations,” he added.

Under the proposed measure, any person found guilty will be punished with a fine ranging from P100,000 to P5 million and one to 5 years imprisonment. The person “must have full knowledge that such news or information is false or have reasonable grounds to believe that the same is false.”

Any person who aids in the creation and spread of fake news will face a fine ranging from P50,000 to P3 million and 6 months to 3 years imprisonment.

Any mass media enterprise or social media platform that fails, neglects, or refuses to remove false news will be penalized with a fine ranging from P10 million to P20 million and imprisonment ranging from 10 to 20 years.

Fake news spread by government officials

Under the bill, public officials caught violating the measure will face stiffer penalties – twice the amount of fine and length of jail time, and absolute perpetual disqualification from office.

Villaueva said public officials must take the moral high ground instead of spreading false information from fake sites themselves.

“The recent events involving our public officials who failed to validate information that resulted to the spread of false information make matters worse. The proliferation of fake news should not be tolerated especially when the public interest is at stake. This is why we want stiffer penalties for erring public officials,” Villanueva explained.

The past year has seen government officials spreading fake news themselves. 

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre earlier accused members of the opposition of having a hand in the clashes in Marawi City, echoing the information spread online. He showed a photo to prove his claim but it turned out the picture was taken in 2015. Aguirre has refused to publicly apologize for his false claims.

In May, Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año, ordered a probe into the complaint against soldiers posting their comments online based on fake news.

Palace Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson has also been caught spreading unverified information in her social media accounts several times. (READ: Photo used by Duterte camp to hit critics taken in Brazil, not PH)

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a former multimedia reporter for Rappler. She covered media and disinformation, the Senate, the Office of the President, and politics.