Ex-SolGen wants independent body to probe public officials who spread fake news

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 10 2017 11:34 PM | Updated as of Oct 11 2017 01:58 PM

MANILA - Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay on Tuesday pushed for the creation of an independent body that can investigate public officials who spread fake news.

"My particular concern is the public value of truth. When you have government officials consistently repeating falsity, the public value of truth goes down," Hilbay told ANC Beyond Politics.

"The only counter way for that kind of problem (fake news) is a public institution that will check. An Ombudsman for government officials providing false information," he added.

Hilbay initially proposed the creation of the commission during the Senate inquiry on pending legislation against the proliferation of misleading news last week.

Hilbay, meanwhile, said any proposal to criminalize fake news is only good in theory.

"The Revised Penal Code or any proposal to criminalize fake news is welcome in theory. That’s okay in theory, but in application, any law penalizing fake news will probably be speaker-agnostic, meaning it doesn’t care if it’s a private person trying to criticize a government official, it doesn’t care whether or not it’s a press that every now and then commits an error because the ones who control the prosecutor are the government," he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte in August signed into law Republic Act 10951, which amended the Revised Penal Code punishment on fake news.

The new law raises the punishment on anyone that publishes "any false news which may endanger the public order, or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State," with penalty of imprisonment for 1 month and 1 day to 6 months and a fine of P40,000-P200,000.

Hilbay said courage and anonymity are other tools which can be used to call out public officials who disseminate disinformation.

"One is courage, some people are becoming more and more courageous in speaking especially given the 18 points swing of the President. Now that aura of invincibility is gone, people are speaking out more often," he said.

"The other tool is anonymity, people all over history have found strength in certain anonymity. That sort of balances between public officials, who can use the tools of the DOJ to go after speakers, and the speakers can hide behind anonymity to criticize or show the incompetence and corruption of the govt," he added.

Hilbay admitted that regulating the social media platform where fake news is proliferated is the best solution.

"It appears that the best way to deal with fake information is through regulation of the platform because they're the ones that have the capability to do it," he said.