MANILA - The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday called on the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to focus on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic instead of going after social media users who are criticizing the government's response to the crisis.
"During this time, it is more important for the government to focus on COVID-19 and not to go after such cases," CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia told ANC.
The agency reiterated that freedom of expression is a non-derogable right.
"As long as these opinions are expressed freely and not bordering to any crime, (like) any act of sedition, then these should not be curtailed at all by the government," De Guia said.
Dissent should not be taken as threats, but as an exercise of rights in a free society, the CHR reminded the government.
"The 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has already taken so much lives. Let us work together to save more," the agency said in a statement.
The NBI earlier said it will help in contact tracing or locating people who may have come in contact with COVID-19 patients.
The CHR appeal comes after human rights lawyer Chel Diokno revealed that the NBI has summoned social media users who expressed sentiments on the government's response to the pandemic.
Diokno's client will be asked about the latter's "publicly posted article concerning an alleged misuse of government funds."
The NBI said that in issuing subpoenas, it is focused on acts allegedly in violation of Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code or the unlawful use of means of publication and unlawful utterances.
For Diokno, NBI's actions will bring a chilling effect since his client did not post misinformation but "fair commentary on matters of public interest."
“Tinanggap ko ang kasong ito dahil ‘di na makatao ang nangyayari. Ang dami nang namamatay, pati frontliners, pero imbes na COVID, kritiko ang gusto nilang puksain,” he said.
(I accepted this case because what's happening is inhumane. Many are dying, including front-liners, but instead of eliminating COVID, they're going after critics.)
The NBI Cybercrime Division said the subpoenas issued by their office were related to their investigation on the proliferation of misinformation on the coronavirus.
The NBI said the subpoenas had nothing to do with social media posts "that are critical of the government."
To date, the number of coronavirus infections in the Philippines has soared to 2,633. The total figure includes 107 deaths and 51 people who recovered from the disease.