CHR: Fight vs false virus news shouldn't justify 'authoritarian tendencies'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 07 2020 01:15 PM

Discrimination 'concerning', says body 

Passengers talk on a video call while wearing protective masks following confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Philippines, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, in Manila, Feb. 5, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

MANILA — The Philippines should reject "authoritarian tendencies" as it moves to curb misinformation on a novel coronavirus outbreak from China, the Commission on Human Rights said Friday.

The justice department earlier warned that those spreading false information about the pathogen, which has killed at least 630, could face cybercrime charges. 

A presidential decree that penalized rumors under the Marcos dictatorship was repealed some 3 decades ago because it violated freedom of expression, noted CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia. 

While freedom of expression is not absolute even with newer laws, "there should be a higher threshold under a democracy for rights to flourish and be exercised," she said. 

"Putting a halt to rumor-mongering and the spread of false information demand collective action. Such situation should also not, in any way, be used to justify authoritarian tendencies, such as curtailment of rights," said De Guia. 
 
The "absence of right information" could also be causing the spread of wrong information, she added. 

The Philippines confirmed 3 cases of the virus, including 1 death, all from Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the pathogen was first detected. Manila also banned all inbound travel from China, Macau and Hong Kong. 

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday urged the public to stop stirring up anti-Chinese xenophobia related to the outbreak that has infected more than 31,000. 

De Guia also said it was "concerning" that the outbreak "resulted to undue discrimination against other people and race." 

"With the world confronted with a virus with little information known, it is human to be afraid. But we must not allow hysteria and paranoia result to othering and irrational treatment of people," she said.