Media no longer allowed inside Palace's briefing room during Luzon-wide lockdown

Media no longer allowed inside Palace's briefing room during Luzon-wide lockdown
Residents wearing facemasks walk past a roadblock with awareness signs after the government imposed an enhanced quarantine as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in Manila on March 25, 2020.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — Only resource speakers and state media workers are now allowed to access the Malacañang Press Briefing Room, where public officials give announcements and give updates on the government’s response to the new coronavirus.

The Presidential Communications Operations Office announced this in an advisory dated Thursday “to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Only resource speaker/s, cameraman from the Radio Television Malacañang and one moderator from the Office of Global Media and Public Affairs will be allowed inside the press briefing room of the New Executive Building in Malacañan beginning Friday.

“Members of the press shall no longer be allowed inside the press briefing room until the end of the enhanced community quarantine,” the advisory read.

PCOO said the media may participate during the public address via the virtual presser. If there are questions from private media, they should be given to the moderator or the resource speaker in advance.

PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar and Undersecretary Rock Ignacio used teleconferencing to hold Friday’s public briefing.

Movement in the entire Luzon will be restricted until April 12 as the government scrambles to contain the rapid spread of the new coronavirus that has infected over 700 Filipinos.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases earlier released guidelines, which include that a special media pass for journalists covering different beats in Metro Manila will be issued.

But journalists, press freedom advocates and academic said the directive is “unnecessary, unreasonable and unconstitutional.”

They stressed that the Constitution provides that no law will be passed that will abridge the freedom of speech, expression or of the press. The right to information on matters of public concern is also enshrined on the Bill of Rights.

Charges vs alleged COVID-19 fake news purveyors

The Philippine National Police filed criminal charges against four individuals who allegedly spread false reports and information on COVID-19.

The PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group identified the suspects as Maria Diane Serrano of Cabuyao City, Laguna, and Fritz John Menguito, Sherlyn Solis and Mae Ann Pino of Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu.

Serrano allegedly spread false information that a patient positive for COVID-19 was admitted and died at the Global Medical Center Inc. in Cabuyao last February 2020.

The three Lapu-Lapu residents “were responsible for spreading unverified and false information on COVID-19 outbreak,” PNP said.

All suspects are facing charges for violating Unlawful Use of Means of Publication and Unlawful Utterances under the Revised Penal Code and Section 6 of the Anti-Cybercrime Law.

President Rodrigo Duterte recently approved the law that will grant the executive branch new powers to address the coronavirus pandemic. One provision of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act penalizes spreading false information on social media and other platforms.

The law punishes the following:

  • 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
  • Those participating in cyber incidents that make use or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails or other similar acts

Those found violating this provision may be slapped with two months imprisonment or a fine of not less than 10,000. Courts may also impose a fine of up to P1 million. — Gaea Katreena Cabico with report The STAR/Christina Mendez

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