CEBU

Seares: Alarm and scandal charge against fake-news maker may not stick

News Sense

DANAO City police told news media they will file the charge of alarm and scandal, in relation with the Cybercrime Prevention Act (Republic Act 10175), against a student named Brigs Granada Alvaro who admitted he posted on Facebook the false news that he was almost kidnapped by men in a white van.

Last Tuesday (Dec. 3), Alvaro appeared before Vice Mayor Mix Durano, city councilors, PNP officers and a social welfare representative and reportedly admitted the falsehood of his story and sought forgiveness.

By itself, the purely concocted kidnapping story wouldn’t have created as much ripple as it did. Taken however with another social media post about a video-recorded faked kidnapping in Sta. Ana, Manila also involving men in a white van, Alvaro’s FB post drew a lot of attention.

But is alarm and scandal the correct charge?

Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella suggested instead the violation of the law on rumor-mongering and false information, contained in Presidential Decree 90 of Jan. 8, 1973.

Bar exam question

The matter of filing the correct complaint against the Danao fake-news maker brings to mind the bar examination question sometime ago on the crime of alarms and scandals.

A woman, the bar question says, is a lessee of a condo unit. One night she swims totally nude at the condo’s swimming pool. Some people who occupy condo units near the pool are amused; others are offended, saying the woman’s act is public disturbance. Does she commit alarm and scandal?

“Alarms and scandals” in Art. 153 of the Revised Penal Code specifies the acts that qualify as crime bearing that name.

I believe that to be considered “alarm and scandal,” the act of Alvaro must be one of those listed by the article and, in order to relate to cybercrime law, must be committed “by, through and with the use of information and communication technologies.”

Acts of ‘alarm and scandal’

Alvaro used the internet to circulate the story but he didn’t do any of the acts that Art. 153 of RPC enumerates as a crime under alarms and scandals.

[1] Did Alvaro in a public place “discharge a firearm, rocket, firecracker or other explosives calculated to cause alarm or danger”?

[2] Did he “instigate or take active part in any charivari or other disorderly meeting offensive to another or prejudicial to public tranquility”?

[3] While wandering about at night or otherwise engaged in a night activity, did Alvaro disturb the public peace?

[4] While drunk or otherwise, did he cause any disturbance or scandal in a public place (and the act didn’t constitute “tumults and other disturbances of public order” which is a crime under another RPC article)?

No catch-all provision

Alvaro used cyber technology to create the disturbance but his act is not alarm and scandal under the penal code definition.

Relevantly, the RPC listing of alarms and scandals does not contain a catch-all provision that covers similar acts of disturbance, such as spreading false news or rumor.

A criminal law, law schools teach, must be strictly interpreted to favor the accused. Since what Alvaro did is not in the list of alarms and scandals, I believe he can’t be prosecuted under it and the offense can’t be hooked to the cybercrime law.

The act of smearing a person’s honor or reputation, for example, must first constitute libel under the Revised Penal Code before it can be tied to the cybercrime law to raise the penalty one degree higher.

Alvaro’s use of social media to circulate the bogus news would increase the penalty of the crime but first the crime of alarm and scandal has to be proved, and what he admitted he did is not among those listed by the law.

The anti-rumor law, maybe

Perhaps his act would qualify under PD #90, the anti-rumor mongering law, which Mayor Labella advised.

Alvaro by his admission published and spread “false news and information.” Prosecutors need only to show that the bogus story caused or tended to cause “panic, divisive effects among the people, discredit of or distrust for the duly constituted authorities, undermine the stability of the Government... endanger public order or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State...”

And his act didn’t have to cause all that. It is enough if it “tended to cause” the adverse effect.

That nude swimmer

Going back to the bar exam question: did the nude swimmer commit alarm and scandal?

The examiner apparently wanted to test the examinee’s knowledge of the law on alarms and scandals but, more importantly, how the would-be lawyer balances private right against public morality and order.

One answer said, “The condo swimming pool was not exactly a public place. Couldn’t those scandalized by the nudity just look away?”


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