WLD CORONA MANIL13-1582027690958
Motorists wearing face masks make their way along a street in the Binondo district of Chinatown in Manila. Image Credit: AFP

Manila: An optometrist in Central Philippines’ Cebu has been criminally charged by the police for allegedly spreading “fake news” about the coronavirus on social media.

Josephil Brian Consuelo, a Mandaue City based eye doctor, had claimed in a recent Facebook post that a supposed Covid-19 patient died at the University of Cebu Medical Centre (UCMed) recently. But an investigation conducted by the Central Visayas region Anti-Cybercrime Unit showed that no such death from the viral respiratory disease took place. Likewise the UCMed’s Human Resource and Legal Office also denied claims by the optometrist in his social media post.

Brig Gen Bernard Banac spokesman for the Philippine National Police, said that because of the doctor’s irresponsible social media post, a lot of local residents had panicked.

Due to the confusion and unfounded fear that he had caused, Consuelo was charged with violations of the Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Brig Gen Dennis Agustin, PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) director, said Consuelo was arrested on February 13. He was charged with violating the cybercrime prevention law, particularly, Article 154. If proven, the doctor could be imprisoned from four to eight years or be made to pay P40,000 (Dh2,909) to P200,000 as penalty for his offence.

Consuelo’s arrest was the first of such apprehension by local law enforcement authorities on Covid-19 fake news purveyors. Earlier Interior Secretary Eduardo Año warned that he would order the police to go “perpetrators of false information on coronavirus.”

“Their acts are inimical to the interest of the general public,” Ano said.

The PNP is an agency under Año’s Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

National Police chief, Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa said he ordered intensified cyber patrol operations and monitoring against fake news.

“With the help of the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group, we will double our efforts against misinformation and we urge the public to refrain posting unverified information that creates panic and confusion,” Gamboa said.

Gamboa reiterated the warning to Filipinos to refrain from posting unverified information that creates panic and confusion.

Despite the proliferation of alarming news about Covid-19 in the Philippines, the country had only reported one confirmed death from the viral disease, 453 cases earlier suspected turned out negative while 22 cases have pending results.