Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

Bayan Metro Manila deplores the passage of Republic Act 11469 which gives additional special powers to President Rodrigo Duterte in handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

We reiterate that granting more powers to the president is unnecessary. What we urgently need today is a comprehensive emergency action by the government and not delegating more powers to a president who has consistently demonstrated his lack of respect for human rights and due process.

The government is deceiving the public when it claims that the new law will now enable various agencies to expedite COVID-19 measures to ease the suffering of millions who are now living under quarantine. It is liable for its stubborn refusal to conduct mass testing, the fast delivery of aid, immediate protection for frontliners, and lifting of repressive lockdown restrictions – all of which can be enforced by the president even without the special powers which he now possess.

In addition to what we have already stated in our critique of the bill, we condemn the insertion of a dangerous provision which seeks to criminalize the spreading of ‘fake news’. This can be easily abused and misapplied by authorities to target critics of the government.

Section 6 of the law penalizes “individuals or groups creating, perpetrating, 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…”

The section also penalizes those who create online content for phishing operations and the sending of fraudulent emails. But this is already covered under existing laws against cyber crimes.

Who will define if a content is fake news? DDS bloggers?

Who will determine if a post about COVID-19 promotes chaos and anarchy? The Presidential Communications Group which labels critics and activists as dilawans, rebels, terrorists, and traitors?

This provision can be invoked by authorities to sow fear and prevent people from expressing what they feel and think about the COVID-19 measures of the government.

There are daily reports and social media posts of residents exposing the impact of the lockdown, the deteriorating situation of frontliners, and the slow and inadequate delivery of government assistance – will authorities flag this type of content as ‘false information’?

When some hospitals raised the shortage of medical protective equipment, the House Speaker told media that the report is ‘fake news’. When the #ProtestFromHome trended on Twitter, the police responded by accusing people’s organizations which initiated the online campaign of being anti-Filipino.

The real ‘fake news’ peddlers are state-backed trolls who are polluting the cyberspace with their nasty comments and lies.

But unlike the government which intends to criminalize free speech, our response to ‘fake news’ is to counter it with verified information, educating the public about COVID-19, engaging social media platforms to improve their fact-checking process, and reporting state actors who are deliberately spewing out lies and hate speech.

Undermining the independence of LGUs

The same section also penalizes LGU officials “disobeying national government policies or directives in imposing quarantines.” It provides for an additional penalty of “perpetual, temporary absolute disqualification from office.”

While we understand the importance of a unified response in dealing with COVID-19, we also recognize that LGUs must be allowed to modify their plan of action to better address the needs of their constituents according to their evidence-based crisis assessment.

This principle is important to uphold especially if the national government standards are not applicable for implementation in some LGUs. This also becomes an imperative doctrine if the national government is delayed in conducting essential solutions like mass testing in communities and deployment of protective measures for frontliners.

Obeying the national government makes sense if it is implementing a comprehensive action plan to fight COVID-19. Disobeying it is a patriotic and humane act if based on a rational review that its purported measures are actually misguided and ineffective.

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