MANILA - The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has reminded the public of every Christian's obligation to fight fake news, calling such falsehoods a "sin against charity."
In an unprecedented move, the influential Catholic hierarchy, under its current president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, issued its first pastoral letter urging action against "fake news" and "alternative facts."
"The duty to speak the truth is so elemental a demand of morality and of good social order that it can hardly be reduced to more elementary precepts," Villegas said.
"Sadly, we see this happening today. There are persons who have given themselves to the service of reporting what never happened, concealing what really happened, and distorting what should be presented in a straightforward manner," he said.
Villegas also decried how social media has become a venue to spread lies and deceit, in apparent reference to divisive untruths taken as facts online.
The pastoral letter also enumerated several steps that the faithful must undertake in order to fight fake news:
1. To refrain from patronizing, popularizing and supporting identified sources of “alternative facts” or “fake news”.
2. To rebut and refute falsehood whenever they are in possession of facts and of data.
3. To refuse to be themselves purveyors of fake news and to desist from disseminating this whether on social media, by word of mouth, or through any other form of public expression.
4. To identify the sources of fake news so that our brothers and sisters may be duly alerted and may know which media and which sites to shun.
The CBCP's move came as the government was hounded by issues of fake news involving some of its officials and agencies.
The Senate is set to summon Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II for using unverified information to claim that several opposition lawmakers were involved in the Maute terrorist group's siege of Marawi City, including Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Bam Aquino.
Aguirre later recanted his allegations after it was revealed that the photograph he cited as evidence of a supposed meeting in Marawi City, which he showed to journalists in a press conference, was an image taken in 2015 at the Iloilo Airport.
Still, he ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe opposition figures for an alleged destabilization effort against the Duterte administration, which the political minority has several times denied.
Meanwhile, last month, state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA) drew flak for coming out with a story titled “Urban warfare a challenge for soldiers in Marawi” featuring a photo of soldiers in Vietnam, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
Sen. Joel Villanueva recently filed a bill seeking to penalize any person or group who maliciously spreads false news or information.