The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will file cases against five individuals for allegedly spreading fake news regarding the May 9 national elections, undermining the credibility of the poll agency.
Commissioner George Garcia said Wednesday the poll body has already referred to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) the five instances wherein the credibility and integrity of the electoral process was “undermined.”
This was after Comelec Commissioner Rey Bulay in April threatened to have the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) involved against critics who were accusing the agency of bias for certain candidates.
Bulay later clarified that he issued a warning against those who would attempt to disrupt the elections, not to jail critics.
“So what I said, to those that will comment on lawless violence by inducement, with respect to the results of the election, you will be met with the full force of the law,” Bulay said in a press briefing.
Meanwhile, Garcia said: “Last week, I referred to the NBI five instances in social media which really undermines the credibility, integrity of our electoral process system.”
“Expect that in the next succeeding days, we will be filing cases against these individuals simply because what they did was wrong,” he added.
The poll official said the Comelec is only against fake news or wrong information and not criticisms or commentaries against them.
He also emphasized the importance of free expression and guaranteed that cases will not be filed against those who just simply express their opinions regarding the elections.
Under the Omnibus Election Code, persons proven to be peddling fake news or disinformation among voters may be imprisoned for one to six years.
“The Comelec would like to 100% guarantee to everyone that we will always observe constitutional due process. Everybody will be afforded due process,” Garcia said.
Last month, Bulay said: “Those who are commenting their public opinion that the Comelec is siding with anyone and cheating the elections, I am warning you, we will not hesitate to call upon the AFP at this time, who is currently under the control of the Comelec to take action and detain you.”
“So, if you are planning on disrupting the results of the elections, what we want, what the 10 of us in the COMELEC one, are credible, clean, and free elections,” he added.
Bulay drew flak on social media, with several users and lawmakers calling him out to “do his job properly.”
“Comelec threatens military action on its critics!” Kabataan Party-list 1st nominee Raoul Manuel said last week. “Tsk tsk. Pati eleksyon, militarized? Ayusin niyo kasi ang trabaho niyo (Even the elections will be militarized? Do your job properly)!”
But Bulay said: “It’s no threat. It is the truth. So, I am actually warning people to obey the laws kung sakaling hindi nila alam [in case they didn’t know].”
He explained that he made the statement to emphasize that election offenses are decreed as criminal acts. He really didn’t have to say it, Bulay said, since ignorance of the law excuses no one.
Bulay even made an example out of the headline: “Comelec exec threatens to jail critics,” which according to him, falls within the elements of libel under the Revised Penal Code which are defamatory imputation, malice, publication, and identifiability of the victim.
As a former Manila chief prosecutor, Bulay added that he will not think twice about filing cases against those who will impede the elections.