MMDA to run after peddlers of COVID-19 disinformation

With COVID-19 figures rising in Metro Manila, unscrupulous individuals are spreading misleading and false information on social media about travel restrictions in the region, officials said Saturday.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority appealed to the public to stop spreading fake news about the land, sea and air travel restrictions in the national capital region, whose population swells to 15 million during daytime.

The agency cited an infographic circulating on social media stating that “land, domestic air and sea travel to and from Metro Manila will be suspended from March 15 until April 14.”

MMDA chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr. urged the public to be more responsible in sharing posts on social media, especially on Facebook where millions of people are users.

Abalos said spreading lies on travel restriction would only cause panic among the people and would not help the efforts being done by government agencies, local government units, and other stakeholders in going against the deadly coronavirus disease.

“Don’t entertain and spread unverified information on social media. Let’s all work together and be united in what we still face against COVID-19,” the MMDA chief said.

Authorities warned that individuals found openly spreading fake news and disinformation on COVID-19 would face charges for violating Presidential Decree 90 “Declaring Unlawful Rumor-Mongering and Spreading False Information”, in relation to Republic Act 10175 or the “Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012”.  

Spreading false information carries the penalty of imprisonment from six months and one day to six years.

The wrong information came days after Metro Manila mayors decided to impose in NCR a long curfew hours for two weeks beginning Monday in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior and Local Government welcomed the decision of Metro Manila mayors to set a standardized unified curfew hours from 10 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., which it said was “a necessary measure to address the spike of COVID-19 cases.”   

DILG spokesperson and undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said the move of local government units in declaring unified curfew hours was urgently needed for the public to be able to comply with the new regulation. 

He said the Department of Health and other health professionals were one in saying that there was urgent need to regulate the movement of people within and around Metro Manila because of the spike in cases which had reached more than 4,000 daily.

“With the imposition of the common curfew hours plus the other policies currently being implemented in Metro LGUs such as localized/granular lockdowns and the crackdown of violators of minimum public health standards, we hope to see a decline of coronavirus cases in the following weeks; therefore we urge the public to cooperate,” said Malaya. 

DILG officer in charge Bernanrdo Florece had ordered the Philippine National Police to implement a crackdown on quarantine violators, impose a curfew, and intensify the enforcement of minimum public health standards in all barangays.

Apart from the setting common curfew hours, an MMDA resolution likewise imposes granular lockdown, strict implementation of health protocols and standards, and intensified testing, contact tracing, and isolation.

Malaya explained that, as a general rule, workers returning to or going to work were exempted from the unified curfew if they present their company IDs or other proof that they were going to work or returning home from work to police or barangay authorities/checkpoints.

Operators, and/or employees of medical/health care/emergency service, public utility vehicles, food delivery, convenience stores, restaurants, business process outsourcing, wholesale markets and delivery, and other similar or related essential personnel and services are also exempted.

Malaya said that LGUs were the ones who would determine who were exempted from the uniform curfew in Metro Manila, especially the sanctions to be imposed on violators.

Also, on a case to case basis in the city, barangays may request the city government for authority to impose longer curfew.

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