(Feb. 24, 2020) On February 4, 2020, the Philippines minister of justice issued a directive instructing the National Bureau of Investigation to look into cases of deliberate dissemination of misinformation about the coronavirus and bring criminal charges against those believed responsible, if pertinent evidence is available.
On the same date, a Philippine media organization reported that police in the Philippine city of Legazpi filed criminal charges against an individual who pretended to be sick with coronavirus by laying down in front of a shopping mall, which reportedly caused “unnecessary panic.” Reportedly, the individual will be charged with violating article 155 of the Philippine Penal Code, which makes it a crime to maliciously cause alarm and scandal. The individual was not arrested immediately following the incident because Legazpi police had yet to secure a pertinent warrant.
As of early February 2020, the Philippine Department of Health had confirmed two cases of coronavirus in the country, one of which ended in a fatality. Both individuals were reported to be visiting from China.
In a related effort to address the spread of inaccurate information about the coronavirus disease online, which may cause panic if left unaddressed, the Philippine National Police (PNP) have indicated they are reviewing social media posts that publicize this type of information, particularly on Facebook, where they say these types of posts are common. When the PNP find a suspicious claim online, they conduct inquiries to determine the veracity of the questionable content. For example, they recently determined that a report they found on Facebook about an individual being sick with coronavirus was false by contacting the local hospital for confirmation. On learning that the report was inaccurate, the PNP contacted Facebook’s platform administrators, who were able to address the issue directly.