Currently, there is no definite meaning of “fake news” as it has been defined and interpreted in many different ways. It may refer to news satire, news parody, fabrication or manipulation of reports, advertising technique, propaganda, or discrediting of traditional news or dissenters. These false information or fake news increasingly had an impact on society with the help of technologies. As distribution of false information could be easily done in various ways, it became easier for people to access and consume those fake news. Moreover, the truth and authenticity of the information is difficult to be verified since it can hardly be immediately proved to be wrong. Not only that fake news could destroy an image or reputation of one, but also could create chaos in the society, in matters relating to politics or any public interests.
The influence of fake news, especially on political elections has been responded by countries around the world, including in Southeast Asia. Many countries have developed anti-falsehood laws to prevent threats to their public interests. However, there is no absolute meaning of falsehoods as it depends on each countries’ different cultures, religions, political system, and legal influences. These diverse backgrounds will reflect the extent of laws and developments in regarding to fake news of each countries.
In the Philippines, as one of the most virtually-connected countries around the world, with 7 million active social media users, fake news is easily distributed, circulated, and accessed in a short amount of time. A person consuming information bear a responsibility to separate the lies from the truth. However, it might not be as easy for one to acknowledge any false information on news which claimed to be true and factual. The duty might be better put on the government to prevent the distribution of falsehoods from the beginning.
Under Article 353-359 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, the definitions, forms, and punishment relating to libel which refers to written defamation and slander which refers to spoken defamation are specified. The laws included any defamatory imputation, or any acts tending to dishonor, discredit, or contempt another by which a person committing is subjected to penalties. This defamation could be resulted from purposefully publication or distribution of fake news of a person, with defendant’s intention. However, criminalizing on defamation might not be enough to cover the concern of fake news because one’s reputation being damaged is not the only impact. Public interests needed also to be considered as falsehood of information could create large impacts on society, particularly in relation to national security.
Therefore, Section 154 should be considered as it specifically applies to publication of false news. “Any person which by means of printing, lithography, or any other means of publication shall publish or cause to be published as news any false news which may endanger the public order, or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State” will be imposed to penalty of arresto mayor and fine ranging from 200 to 1,000 Pesos.’ The duration of arresto mayor is imprisonment from one month and one day to six months. Also, any person who shall encourage disobedience to the law, maliciously publish or caused to be published any official resolution of document without proper authority, or distributed pamphlets which do not bears real printer’s name or anonymously, shall be penalized.
This Revised Penal Code was enacted as an Act No.3815 in 1930 as an Act Revising the Penal Code and Other Penal Laws. The Revised Penal Code still remains in effect today, even though with several amendments. However, since the Code has been in effect for 89 years, some unamend content might not be suitable or as effective as at the time it was first entered into force. Thus, on August 29th, 2017, Republic Act 10951 or an “Act Adjusting the Amount or the Valued of Property and Damage on which Penalty is Based, and Fines Imposed Under the Revised Penal Code” was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.
The amendment imposed higher penalties on defamation as in libel and slander. Libel will be imposed with imprisonment or a fine ranging from 40,000 to 1.2 million Pesos, or both, from the previous of 200 to 600 Pesos. Slander will be fined not exceeding 20,000 from the previous maximum of not more than 200 Pesos. Stronger penalties on publishing false news under Article 154 were imposed. Under the law, penalty of arresto mayor and fine ranging from 40,000 to 200,000 Pesos shall be imposed on person publishing false news, increased from a fine ranging from 200 to 1,000 Pesos of the pre-amended Code. This means that a person spreading false news now could be imposed to an imprisonment up to six months and a fine up to 200,000 Pesos which is equivalent to about 3833USD or 122,000THB.
This increases in penalties on crimes related to fake news could reflect the situations in the country with President Rodrigo Duterte in control. It all started since 2016 Philippines presidential election when there was a use of fake Facebook accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers to distribute Duterte’s campaign messages, in both the Philippines and overseas. Multiple of dubious independent news sites and blogs had supported Duterte. The campaign itself began circulating false information, posting a fake endorsement by Pope Francis, with the words “Even the Pope Admires Duterte” beneath the pope’s image. Even NASA named him “the best president in the solar system.”
Social medias have been used to control and manipulate public opinions, flooded with lies and disinformation as the Philippines is a top country that goes online globally, with smartphones outnumbering people. After being elected, Duterte turned social medias into a weapon. There was a “patriotic trolling” which involves the use of propaganda to go viral with the impression to support the government. It is also a hate and harassment campaign sponsored by the government “to silence and intimidate.” Opponents were being attacked, including prominent senator and human-rights activist.
Duterte’s drug war and the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court are another important issue resulted in rising up of human-right activists and opponents on extrajudicial killings. The disputes over alleged human rights violations became a big problem in the country. Social media has become a tool to directly attack journalism in the Philippines which one big target is Rappler, known for reporting of controversial issues including deadly war on drug campaign of the president.
Duterte introduced the war on drug which his people crack down drug dealers and other criminals at night and kill them. There are more than 7,000 people who have been killed as part of Duterte’s war on drugs and many more which are unreported. Senator Leila de Lima, an opponent of the President had led an investigation into Duterte’s extrajudicial killings. Later, she was targeted by viral Facebook articles that she is a patron saint of drug, where the origins of alleged were unclear. After that, she was arrested and ended up in jail on drug charges. Duterte sought to silence his critics via various means, other than remaining Leila de Lima in detention, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes was removed from Supreme Court for her criticism of Duterte’s “drug war” and other abusive policies.
International Criminal Court (ICC) open a preliminary examination into “drug war” killings in the Philippines as there were strong concerns about the Philippines’ compliance with the human rights obligations. However, Duterte administration responded by withdrawing from the International Criminal Court. This intensified the concerns and issues on fake news in the country as the activists or opponents might have to confront with situations similar to that of Senator Leila de Lima’s.
The press freedom in the Philippines was restricted. Rappler, the Philippines’ largest online news site, was attacked as Rappler explored into government’s fake news and fake accounts strategies on its election 2016 election campaign and war on drug. In January 2018, Rappler was threatened by Duterte administration of the closure of Rappler.com, containing online news critical of the “war on drugs.” The Department of Justice also accused Rappler for tax evasion. These happened after the huge attacks and harassment of Rappler by the Duterte government and its supports. Moreover, there have also been continue killings of journalists, with six murdered by unidentified gunmen in different parts of the country in 2018.
Being a country with widespread of fake news over social medias, several drafts and bills have been introduced from both legislative body’s lower house and upper house, the House of Representatives and Senate.
On June 21st, 2017, an Act Penalizing the Malicious Distribution of False News and Other Related Violations was drafted and filed as the Senate Bill No.1942 by Senator Joel Villanueva. It penalizes a person who spread false news or information which “cause panic, chaos, violence, hate or which exhibit or tend to exhibit a propaganda to blacken or discredit one’s reputation, with that person’s knowledge that such information is false.” The punishment will be a fine ranging from 100,000 to 5,000,000 Pesos and imprisonment from 1 to 5 years, with double punishment on public official offender who would also be disqualified from holding public office. Mass media enterprise or social media platform that fails to remove false news within reasonable period after knowing its falsity will be punished, with higher punishment of a fine ranging from 10,000,000 to 20,000,000 Pesos and imprisonment ranging from 10 to 20 years.
A month later, on July 20th, 2017, a member of House of Representatives, Luis Raymund Villafuerte filed House Bill No.6022 introducing an Act Prohibiting the Creation and Distribution of False News, defining ‘Fake news’ as “misquotation or the false and/or inaccurate report of one’s statement, editing audio or video which results in the distortion of facts and/or the context, or purely fabricated content.” The penalties increase in severity if it is a repeat offence. Mass media outlets which are first-time offenders to be fined 1,000,000 Pesos for creating and 500,000 Pesos for spreading fake news. For social media users found guilty for the first time will be fined with 100,000 Pesos and imprisonment, or both for creating fake news and will be fined 50,000 Pesos for spreading fake news.
On February 6th, 2018, an Act amending the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees” was introduced by Senator Poe who filed Senate Bill No.1680. This bill is aiming to hold public officials to higher standards from the influence brought by social medias, that they should uphold accuracy, reliability, and truthfulness as can be expected from a government official. It prohibits public officials from publishing or spreading fake news or information, whether in official or personal capacity.
These bills are needed as the current Penal Code is not compatible to this complex nature and fast spreading of fake news, with the help of today’s technologies. However, President Rodrigo Duterte believed that a law against fake news will not be passed by Congress as it would violate the right to freedom of expression. The focus should instead be more on increasing punishment for defamation as in libel and slander in the Revised Penal Code. He said that “to prescribe a set of group of what is proper or not, it won’t happen.”
The Philippines’s political situations with President Duterte in power reflected the issues and laws on fake news in the country. Starting with 2016 presidential election, following by Duterte’ drug war. Then, with country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court and how Supreme Court take on his side. Duterte administration silenced his opponents including attacking on journalists and online news websites. These occurred with the help of social media as a tool which later was turned into a weapon to spread false information in order to control public’s opinions in benefit for the government. Therefore, it is not surprising that President Duterte would reject any need for legislative action in regards to fake news, at least until the end of Duterte’s presidential term which is in 2022.