In an effort to intensify the campaign against the proliferation of fake news on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the National Bureau of Investigation has activated various units of the bureau to trace the source of fake news, especially those that sow chaos and lead to unrest and anarchy in the country.
NBI Director Eric Distor said he has instructed the different units of the NBI including the Cyber Crime Division (CCD), the Digital Forensic Division, other Investigative units such as the Regional Operations Service, to trace the source of fake news.
Distor also said the International Operations Division is currently coordinating with its foreign counterpart to verify the accuracy of the statement.
The new directive by the NBI Director was prompted by an alleged statement from the U.S. State Department warning of potential looting incidents during its month-long lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The NBI refuted a supposed US warning on potential looting incidents in Luzon during a month-long lockdown to curb the novel coronavirus pandemic.
A text message that recently made rounds claimed that the Philippines was vulnerable to looting because the average Filipino family only had a week’s worth of savings. The message cited a supposed study done by the US State Department.
“No such study exists,” said Distor, who quoted information from his agency’s US counterpart.
The Philippine National Police on Friday said the supposed US study on looting was unverified and false.
Distor said all these reports are baseless and totally untrue.
He said that the US has clarified it releases information and advisories only through its official media platforms and website.
The International Operations Division is now gathering relevant data and other information for possible case build up and filing of cases against the perpetrators of fake news.
Distor said the CCD is now investigating all possible sources of fake news being spread in various social media platforms and will submit its results to the Secretary of Justice.
He assured the public that the NBI will take all the necessary steps to protect its citizens against the proliferation of fake news and prosecute those responsible for it. He stressed that the public is welcome to seek clarification from the NBI on the accuracy of any report that intends to cast doubts on the efforts of the government’s determined effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go told purveyors of fake news to “quarantine their mouths” especially during this time of COVID-19 crisis.
The former aide of President Rodrigo Duterte cited many screenshots of messages circulated through various social media platforms and messaging apps that narrated incidents of violence, looting, and other criminal activities.
“These were confirmed to be false after the Philippine National Police investigated them,” said Go.
Hs also encouraged the public to report those who share fake news so that they can be penalized under the law.
Go also reminded the public about the existing Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Anyone found spreading false information can be punished and may face imprisonment of six to twelve years.
In addition, Go also cited Presidential Decree No. 90 (Declaring Unlawful Rumor-Mongering and Spreading False Information) as a possible violation of fake news sources.
PNP chief Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa also issued a stern warning to peddlers of fake news that they will be arrested and charged in court.
“This is a warning to everybody because based on the Revised Penal Code, as amended on stiffer penalties under Republic Act No. 10951, you can be punished by disseminating, posting fake news. So again we discourage people from doing this, you are not helping. The Philippine National Police will go after you, don’t test us, we will track you down,” said Gamboa.
The PNP chief also appealed to the public to refrain from sharing unvalidated reports on social media that may induce panic.
“The reality is that over the past five days since community quarantine was enforced in Metro Manila and recently enhanced over the rest of Luzon, crime incidents have significantly decreased,” Gamboa said in a statement.
He ordered the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group to trace those behind the circulation of fake news in social media of a purported burglary and robbery in McKinley Hill, Taguig City, and Binondo, Manila; and of alleged public unrest in San Andres, Manila all of which were both found to be hoax reports.
“Although we have not received validated reports of crime incidents in NCR and surrounding areas, we are nonetheless alerting our field units to take preemptive action,” Gamboa said.
He said local police units are instructed to coordinate closely with security managers of commercial centers and vital facilities, and leaders and barangay authorities of residential communities to establish neighborhood watch systems that will alert police and residents of possible security situations.
Gamboa said the PNP will deploy more mobile patrol units for anti-criminality and police visibility operations in the vicinity of commercial centers, vital establishments, and residential communities.
“Our laws provide stiff penalties for persons who will propagate false reports, especially if committed during a period of national emergency. Rest assured police and military security forces and on top of the situation and ready to respond to any calls for assistance from the public,” he said.
In the same vein, the Joint Task Force Corona Virus Shield also warned the public against “disinfect and sanitation” scams in wake of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) crisis.
TF CV Shield head, Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said only the national government and local government units are allowed to do such functions.
He also urged the public to immediately report to police groups professing to offer such services in exchange for a fee.
“The public must be very discerning and alert on such scams being perpetuated and they must report to authorities unscrupulous persons or groups doing such illegal actions,” Eleazar said in a media statement.
Authorities can be contacted via following hotline numbers: Joint Task Force CV Shield Command Center, PNP Command Center Globe: 09173125626; Smart: 09988940013; Landline: 7253176 and Email: [email protected].
Meanwhile, Go said he was disappointed with some individuals who resort to spreading lies just to make the government look bad and spark panic in communities.
He encouraged Filipinos to verify information they receive with official sources before circulating such.
He also told the public that if there are any emergencies or law enforcement concerns that need immediate government response, there are official hotlines that they may contact.
“instead of posting it on Facebook, report to the police, concerned government agencies or to me so we can act on them,” he added.