Jail, P1M fine await spreaders, sharers of fake news

A NEW law on defeating the novel coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) outbreak imposes two months imprisonment or a maximum P1 million fine or both to those who will be found guilty of sharing fake news and unverified reports to social media and similar platforms that may cause fear, chaos, panic, and anarchy.

House Deputy Majority Leader and Bagong Henerasyon (BH) party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera cited Section 6 of the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020" or Republic Act (RA) 11469 would also fight fake news that may sow social unrest during the COVID-19 fight.

“We are also grateful that our proposal to change the language and replace the word cancellation of appropriated programs, projects and activities were also carried,” said Herrera who cited the penal provision of the law that she introduced.

Herrera warned  the full force of RA  11469 would be meted on those found spreading fake news reports.

“[Purveyors of fake news will] be punished with imprisonment of two months or a fine of not less than P10,000 but not more than P1 million or both such imprisonment and fine at the discretion of the court,” said Herrera.

Under the measure, Herrera said "individuals or groups creating, perpetuating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid or beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion; and those participating in cyber incidents that make use or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts.”

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said poor families forced to stay home by the government-imposed lockdown will receive financial assistance for three months under the Bayanihan to Heal As One law signed by President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte.

“It is important for our people to know why we have this law. We have the law because we have to defeat COVID-19, and to be able to defeat it, our people have to stay at home so that our health workers can isolate those who are sick and treat them,” said Cayetano.

Cayetano said the administration’s economic team led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado have identified at least P275 billion in off-budget funds the Bayanihan law allows President Duterte to use to help the poor during the public health emergency.

“Up to 18 million families will receive a monthly subsidy of P5,000 to P8,000 depending on the amount of minimum wage in their regions,” he added. Cayetano reiterated the importance for people to stay home in the government’s fight against COVID-19.

“If we stay home, we don't spread the disease. That will give health authorities time to identify who are infected, isolate them and treat them. That will give time to our health care system to breathe and not be overwhelmed with so many cases,” Cayetano stressed.

He pointed out that the government cannot leave people hungry while it is forcing them to stay home. “It is easy to say people should stay home so they would be safe from the virus. But what if they don’t have food to eat? So the law provides the means to generate funds to subsidize poor families, farmers and beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program,” he said.

The Speaker acknowledged the contributions made by members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in improving the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.

He said one improvement that was introduced was allowing local government units to use more than five percent of their budgets as calamity fund to help their affected constituents.

The Speaker said the law also allows the President to procure in the most expeditious way supplies needed by healthcare workers like face masks and other personal protective equipment items.