To address the proliferation of fake news in the country, Senator Joel Villanueva is proposing up to P5 million (S$138,100) in fine and up to five years imprisonment for any person who "maliciously" offers, publishes, and spreads false news or information in print, broadcast or online media.
For mass media enterprises or social media platforms that fail, neglect, or refuse to remove false news, Villanueva is proposing a fine of from P10 million to P20 million and imprisonment from 10 years to 20 years.
The proposals were contained in Senate Bill No. 1492 or "An Act Penalizing the Malicious Distribution of False News and Other Related Violations," which he filed Wednesday.
False news or information, as defined in the bill, are those which either intend to cause panic, division, chaos, violence, and hate, or those which exhibit a propaganda to blacken or discredit one's reputation.
"In light of the recent events where numerous fake social media accounts were created to spread false news, the bill seeks to punish violators with a hefty penalty depending on the nature of crime he or she committed. Public officials will be slapped with stiffer penalties," Villanueva said in a statement on Thursday.
Under the bill, any person who would be proven guilty of malicious creation and distribution of false news would face a fine ranging from P100,000 to P5 million and imprisonment ranging from one to five years.
Villanueva said if a violator was proven to have aided and encouraged the malicious creation and distribution of fake news, he or she would be slapped with a fine ranging from P50,000 to P3 million and imprisonment ranging from six months to three years.
But if the offender is a public official, he or she would be made to pay twice the amount of fine, and twice the period of imprisonment.
"In addition, he shall also suffer the accessory penalty of absolute perpetual disqualification from holding any public office," the bill said.
Villanueva said it was high time for Congress to pass a bill that would curb the spread of fake news in the country.
"The effect of fake news should not be taken lightly. Fake news creates impression and beliefs based on false premises leading to division, misunderstanding and further exacerbating otherwise strenuous relations," the senator said.
He said public officials must take the moral high ground instead of being the ones to spread false information coming from fake news sites.
Villanueva cited Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II's alleged "false claims" linking some opposition lawmakers to the ongoing armed conflict in Marawi City, and the reported complaint against soldiers who posted their comments on a fake news posted online.
READ: Robredo slams Aguirre for using fake news on Marawi conflict
"The recent events involving our public officials who failed to validate information that resulted in the spread of false information make matters worse. The proliferation of fake news should not be tolerated especially when the public interest is at stake. This is why we want stiffer penalties for erring public officials," he said.
The senator believes the passage of the bill would encourage citizens, especially public officers, "to be more responsible and circumspect in creating, distributing and/or sharing news."
"Addressing national and global concerns should not be made more complicated by false news calculated to cause disunity, panic, chaos or violence," Villanueva added.