(Mar. 2, 2020) On February 17, 2020, the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced that criminal charges had been filed against an individual who was caught spreading misinformation about coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) on social media.
The individual was arrested after he was identified as the author of a Facebook post stating that an alleged coronavirus patient had died at a Philippine hospital.
On discovering the post in question, Philippine police conducted inquiries as to the accuracy of the information with personnel at the hospital where the alleged death had taken place. The hospital personnel indicated that the information was false, which led to the arrest of the post’s author. He was reportedly charged with violating article 154 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes publishing inaccurate information that may endanger the public order.
The PNP has indicated that police officers are coordinating with Facebook Philippines to monitor posts spreading misinformation about the coronavirus disease, and urged the public to avoid posting unverified information related to this virus that may create panic and confusion, warning that they will take appropriate legal action as necessary.
In a related effort to address the spread of inaccurate information about the coronavirus online, the Philippine minister of justice on February 4, 2020, 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 had 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.”
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 from China.