Tagging a person as coronavirus positive is a crime

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DAVAO CITY — Tagging or identifying one as positive of the dreaded coronavirus is libelous, and, one can be imprisoned for the wrongful accusation. This is the legal opinion tended by the Davao City Legal Office (CLO) on Friday.

City Legal Officer Osmundo P. Villanueva rendered an opinion after a netizen complained whose name was falsely posted on social media as Covid-19 positive.

Villanueva in an interview with Newsline said Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio asked for a legal opinion after receiving a complaint from a person being labeled as Coronavirus positive which is not true.

The legal opinion numbered No. 391, Series of 2020 cites Section 4 of the Republic Act No. 10175 known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, the CLO said a false statement saying a certain person is positive of coronavirus may be punishable as a libel crime.

Libel is defined as a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; written defamation.

The following are elements that constitute a libel case such as: If there is Defamation; Intent; Malice and Publication.

In the case of Gretchen (not her real name), a resident of Davao City’s first district, her employer posted her name and her occupation on Facebook on April 5, saying she has been vomiting, coughing and with fever for days, after she served a client who died of Coronavirus.

The post added that she must be brought to the hospital and he was asking help to report the case to the health center.

When Gretchen learned about the incident, she was so mad because she only had fever which lasted for a night, because she lost her appetite as she was drenched with during the heavy downpour, and, the barangay health center even advised her to take paracetamol, a day before her employer published in social media that she was infected.

The post spread like a wildfire, but at the end of the day her employer apologized, and Gretchen did not push through her plan to file a cyber libel case against her employer.

Villanueva’s opinion stressed “Under the said law, libel is the unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be advised in the future. This crime is called cyber libel or internet liner”.

According to the Legal Opinion, the penalty for the crime is “prision correccional” or six (6) and one (1) day to six (6) years imprisonment, or a fine of P200 to P6,000 peso, or both.

The legal opinion states that the falsely accused can start processing the case by going to the Cybercrime Division of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) or the Anti-Cybercrime Group of the Philippine National Police (PNP), as these are the agencies handling the investigation and prevention of cybercrime in the country.

For one to substantiate his claim that she has been maligned, she has to show evidence, reveal the real identity of the accuser and originator of the post, the date it was published, and the time it was posted on social media.

It can also help the person being accused to take note of the IP (Internet Protocol) address, IP address is a unique string of numbers separated by periods that identifies each computer using the Internet Protocol to communicate over a network.-NewsLine

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