Veteran rights lawyer Chel Diokno went to the National Bureau of Investigation office on Tuesday morning to represent his client.
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NBI summons Facebook user for saying money for P2-B jet better spent on healthcare
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - April 7, 2020 - 4:46pm

MANILA, Philippines — A social media user's comment on the government buying a P2-billion private jet has landed him in legal trouble with the National Bureau of Investigation.

The bureau on Tuesday started its probe into the unnamed Facebook user's post criticizing what he said was a misuse of government funds.

Veteran rights lawyer Chel Diokno went to the NBI on Tuesday morning to represent his client who received a subpoena for a supposed violation of Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code, which covers the "unlawful use of means of publication and unlawful utterances."

RELATED: What to do if you receive a subpoena from NBI? Diokno offers tips

It is unclear if the decades-old RPC covers online publication and social media posts.

NBI Cybercrime Division chief Victor Lorenzo said that during the meeting, the rights lawyer sought clarification from the NBI on the nature of the offense supposedly committed by his client.

The NBI official said in Filipino: “His client posted, saying that in spite of the crisis that is ongoing, our government is spending P2 billion for a private jet instead of health insurance or health care of the public.”

The assailed post

In the assailed Facebook post, the social media user lamented “misused” taxpayers' money. He pointed out that the Philippines had money to buy a private jet for the use of top officials, money that he said could have been spent for healthcare instead.

To recall, the government said in October 2019 that it is buying a P2-billion Gulfstream G280 twin-engine command and control jet.

RELATED: Duterte, military VIPs to have luxury jet

The Department of National Defense said the jet could carry the president, defense secretary and senior military leaders and would be used for command and control functions.

Asked if the assailed post may just be a comment on the 2019 purchase, Lorenzo replied: “It is a possible explanation.”

He also said: “We are very much interested if it is a fake information being spread through social media or if he/she has basis.”

NBI gives respondent more time

Diokno and his client were given until next week at the earliest on April 14, to submit a formal reply to their allegations.

If the social media user has basis, Lorenzo said, he or she may be a whistleblower who has knowledge that the government bought a P2-billion jet during crisis.

Or Diokno’s client could be “an author of fake news,” he added.

HRW hits crackdown on journalists and critics

HRW Asia Division researcher Carlos Conde meanwhile condemned the government’s crackdown on journalists and social media users who are critical of their response to the COVID-19 crisis.

In a statement, Conde noted that last week the NBI said it summoned 17 individuals for allegedly posting fake information online while the police filed complaints two journalists on supposed violations of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

Conde also pointed out that local government officials “have taken action against critical journalists,” noting the case of the student journalist in Nueva Ecija who was asked to apologize over a social media post and Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia sending an “intimidating message” to a campus newspaper.

"The national and local governments are using their authority, buttressed by a problematic provision of the law, to crack down on critics while proclaiming they are simply going after peddlers of incorrect COVID-19 information."

"Duterte should call on government officials to focus on measures to defeat the coronavirus and ensure that Filipinos have access to information, rather than be deprived of it," he also said.

CHEL DIOKNO COVID-19 NATIONAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
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