THREE of five insurance agents who reportedly shared false information in a group chat that seven people in Cebu City have died of the coronavirius disease 2019 (Covid-19) surrendered to Mayor Edgardo Labella on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 to air their side.
Kevinn Ebo, 26, admitted that the conversation, the screenshots of which caused panic among Cebuanos, was part of a prank.
He said neither he nor his four colleagues owned the Facebook account that posted their online exchange.
The screenshots show a conversation among Ebo and his colleagues about seven people in Cebu City who have died due to Covid-19 and been cremated in the city’s funeral homes.
Ebo added that he and two of his colleagues decided to approach Labella to seek his help in clearing their names after screenshots of the exchange went viral.
The Department of Health (DOH) Central Visayas, in its official Facebook page, Wednesday, March 18, debunked the circulating group chat messages, calling the information “false and malicious.”
“We remind the public not to share unverified information sources. Please be reminded that spreading of fake news is punishable by law,” reads a portion of the post.
Ebo claimed a social media account owned by one of their colleagues may have been hacked and used to post the fake information.
Labella ordered City Attorney Rey Gealon to conduct an investigation and if necessary, impose sanctions on those responsible for posting the screenshots.
Gealon said he will form a three-man team to investigate the matter and closely coordinate with the PNP Regional Anti-Cybercrime Unit and the National Bureau of Investigation to determine who posted the fake news.
Those responsible could face charges for violating Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
The “prank” among officemates enraged Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, since it also accused the government and DOH of conspiring to hide the alleged deaths.
In a news conference Wednesday afternoon, March 18, Garcia said the Provincial Government will be filing charges against three persons for spreading and making false, malicious claims online.
“Don’t you ever accuse us of trying to hide the truth here. We’ve been sleepless all for the safety and security of Cebuanos,” the governor said.
DOH 7 Director Jaime Bernadas assured that the health office has been transparent and has been regularly posting updates online and holding press briefings on Covid-19.
Meanwhile, Lapu-Lapu City also had its share of fake news, prompting Mayor Junard “Ahong” Chan to request authorities to track down the administrator of the Facebook page, “Anonymous Lapu Lapu” who caused panic because of a March 15 post.
The post stated: “Anonymous... Naay army sakay C130 tested positive sa NCOV... For pick na sa DOH... Nagcontact tracing na ang mga nakasakay... Naa ron ang patient sa airbase hospital (There is an Army personnel onboard a C130 who tested positive for NCOV and will be picked up by the DOH. Those who were onboard have undergone contact tracing. The patient is now at the airbase hospital.”)
After learning about the post, Chan called for an emergency meeting among Air Force Colonel Claro Tamayo, the Benito Ebuen Air Base Commander, the City’s Hospital Chief and Lapu-Lapu City’s Police Major Wayne Magbanua on Tuesday, March 16.
The mayor clarified that the post was fake. The Air Force has also denied having a Covid-19 patient in the airbase hospital.
Chan has coordinated with the Anti-Cybercrime Office of the Police Regional Office 7, the Intelligence Division of the City Police Office and the Philippine Air Force to trace the person behind the fake news. (PAC, FVQ, WBS, RTF)