MANILA, Philippines – Although it believes that outlawing the creation and dissemination of so-called “fake news” is long overdue, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it wants clearer provisions to ensure that relevant evidence can be gathered to file “airtight cases” against peddlers of false information.
PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group deputy chief Brig. Gen. Sydney Villaflor said this before the Senate committees on Justice and Human Rights, and Public Information and Mass Media as they discussed the bill filed by Senator Jinggoy Estrada, which seeks to amend the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 by including the definition of “fake news” and considering it a content-related offense.
Villaflor said it is “high time” for sources and spreaders of false information to be penalized, but he argued that “the mere commission of the acts, or the creation and dissemination of [false information], for the purpose of destroying the truth and misleading its audience should not be the sole basis of the prohibition.”
“Clear effects should be added as an element,” he pointed out. “This is because if the effect is besmirching or tainting the reputation and honor of a particular person, the acts should be covered by the felony of libel and intriguing against honor, which are both punishable under the Revised Penal Code.”
If spreading false information is causing no harm, Villaflor said it “shall die down naturally.
He then pushed to likewise amend the measure’s proposed definition of “fake news,” which refers to it as “misinformation and disinformation of stories, facts and news which is presented as a fact, the veracity of which cannot be confirmed, with the purpose of distorting the truth and misleading its audience.”
“It is respectfully recommended that the word ‘cannot’ in the phrase ‘the veracity of which cannot be confirmed’ be replaced with can,” Villaflor said.
This, he noted, will encourage investigators to exert greater effort in proving that a specific content should indeed be deemed “fake news.”
But Senator Francis Tolentino, who presided over the panel hearing, prodded if doing so will only “prolong the agony of those victimized by ‘fake news’” since a thorough investigation will take time.
“As an investigating agency, we have to first gather relevant, usable evidence so that we can file the case in court – an airtight case,” Villaflor answered.
Gerald Sosa, cybercrime head of the Department of Justice, further scrutinized the bill’s proposed definition of “fake news.”
“Meron pong medyo questionable regarding sa definition ng ‘fake news.’ Same comment po, we should remove iyong phrase na ‘the veracity of which cannot be confirmed,’ because it’s very difficult to investigate and prosecute iyong dissemination of ‘fake news’ if iyon po mismo, hindi natin ma-ascertain iyong veracity niya,” he said.
(The definition of “fake news” is a bit questionable. I have the same comment. We should remove the phrase “the veracity of which cannot be confirmed,” because it is very difficult to investigate and prosecute those who disseminate “fake news” since its veracity, in itself, cannot be ascertained.)
Sosa likewise echoed the PNP’s call to make “clear effect” a factor in considering the criminalization of the creation and spread of false information.
“We should put sufficient parameters na hindi ma-abuse iyong pag-criminalize ng dissemination ng ‘fake news.’ Kapag wala pong clear effect, medyo tingin ko po, we’ll be violating the constitutional right to freedom of expression,” he said.
(We should put sufficient parameters, so the criminalization of “fake news” won’t be abused. If clear effect is not considered, I kind of think that we’ll be violating the constitutional right to freedom of expression.)
Rudolph Jularbal of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas also joined the chorus of concerns about the sought definition of “fake news.”
“It should not be too broad to include the prohibition of valid political opinions. The devil is in the detail, particularly in the definition,” he insisted.
Several journalists, meanwhile, trumpeted their concerns about the proposed measure as they urged the Senate to do away with the usage of the oxymoronic term ‘“fake news.’’
They further expressed worries over it possibly being used to justify censorship and penalize dissent, as they listed alternative solutions to “fake news” like beefing up media and information literacy campaigns and improving fact-checking initiatives.
According to a Pulse Asia survey in September, nearly 90 percent of adult Filipinos across all socioeconomic classes believe that fake news is a problem.
Its results also found that Filipinos nationwide see social media influencers, journalists and politicians responsible for “spreading false information.”