Philippines Arrests 32 on Fake News Charges

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Police in the Philippines have charged 32 people with disseminating false information regarding the COVID-19 health crisis.

The Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) said that 8 of those arrested allegedly spread fake rumors about the novel coronavirus orally around their local neighborhoods. The remaining 24 suspects are accused of using social media platforms to circulate falsehoods about the deadly virus.

Among the suspects is public school teacher Juliet Espinoza, who wrote on Facebook on March 27 that food supplies in General Santos City were running low. According to Philstar Global, Espinoza allegedly urged the public to seize food that was being stored in a gym. 

Another suspect, Vicente Cañonera, posted a list of people he said had contracted COVID-19 on Facebook to help in contact tracing. 

The 32 accused hail from Quezon City, Eastern Visayas, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Western Visayas, Zamboanga peninsula, and Caraga. The crimes they are charged with allegedly took place from March 9 to April 5.

Police have charged the suspects with the unlawful use of means of publication and unlawful utterance under Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code and with violation of Republic Act 10175 or the Anti-Cybercrime Prevention Act.

ACG director Brig. Gen. Dennis Agustin asked the public not to share or post on social media any fake information about the COVID-19 outbreak that might create panic and confusion. 

“The ACG will be relentless in taking countermeasures on misinformation and spread of fake reports by conducting cyber patrol operations on social media and other online platforms,” Agustin said. 

As of Monday, coronavirus had claimed the lives of 163 people in the Philippines, according to Bloomberg. The total number of people with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country was 3,660.

On April 5, Al Jazeera reported that a 63-year-old man had been shot dead by police in the Philippines after threatening police and village officials at a coronavirus checkpoint with a scythe. The man, who was allegedly under the influence of alcohol, became violent after being cautioned by a village health worker to wear a face mask. 

Earlier today, Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte opted to continue the lockdown currently in place on the republic's main island of Luzon until April 30.

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