EXPLAINER: FB verification on ‘Cebu Updates’ not yet completed. Transfer of ownership, change of name may still be assailed.

EXPLAINER: FB verification on ‘Cebu Updates’ not yet completed. Transfer of ownership, change of name may still be assailed.
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[] Alleged use for political propaganda is a related but separate question.

[] Failure to turn over FB page during transition from Labella to Rama, despite claimed effort, caused ‘fiasco’

[1] STATUS OF FACEBOOK PAGE. As of Monday, February 5, 2024, when acting city public information officer Estela Grace Rosit filed a criminal complaint with the City Prosecutor’s Office, the transparency page of Facebook lists “Cebu Updates” as a non-government organization (NGO). But the “about” section also says ”the group or person responsible for it hasn’t completed our (FB’s) verification yet.”

When created on May 2, 2012 by PIO officer-in-charge Florito G. Dugaduga, it was named “Cebu City Public Information Office.” Later, on August 3, 2016, it was changed to “City of Cebu, Public Information Office." Still later, on January 27, 2018, the name was restored to “ Cebu City Public Information Office.”

Thus, from 2012 to 2022, the FB page (a) declared that it belonged to Cebu City’s Public Information Office” and (b) could be classified as a government organization. It was listed under another name, “Cebu Updates,” and as an NGO only starting January 5, 2022.

And if verification on the change of name and category wasn’t “completed yet,” as its “about” section says, then the question of ownership of the disputed page must not have been settled yet in favor of the two “operators” being sued by the City.

Other takeaways from the controversy:

[2] FAILURE TO TURN OVER. In acting PIO Jing Kee Rosit’s February 6, 2023 letter to Police Colonel Fidel Fortaleza Jr., chief of the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Unit-7, she alleged the “Cebu Updates” page used to be the official City Government PIO page but was “not turned over to the administration of Mayor Mike Rama” when Rama assumed as full mayor when mayor Edgardo Labella died on November 19, 2021.

The fact of no-turnover is undisputed. Caesar Wenefrido T. Eviota, whom Rama appointed to the PIO after he succeeded Labella, said in a February 5, 2024 affidavit that he had asked for the “access, administration and management” of the FB page from Razel V. Cuizon, Labella’s PIO chief, but she refused.

Cerwin Eviota didn’t state in his affidavit as to when he made the request (that is, specifically when after Labella’s death) and when and how it was refused. Eviota did say -- in the affidavit attached as “exhibit C” to Rosit’s complaint -- that he was “compelled” to use the FB page “Cebu City - Barugg Sugbo TV” after Cuizon’s alleged refusal.

Whatever attempts were made to “assert” the City’s right to the FB page, it didn’t succeed. That “Cebu Updates” has been controlled since November 2021 by outsiders, a non-government group, is proof there was no turnover.

[3] WAS THERE ABANDONMENT OR REPLACEMENT? Cerwin Eviota said under oath he was forced to use the “Cebu City -- Barugg Sugbo TV” page -- which he said he created on November 9, 2011, when he was consultant to the PIO’s TV news magazine. On December 27, 2021, Eviota said he renamed it to “Cebu City*News & Information” “with the intention of making it the official FB page of the Cebu City Government.”

Why? “I was denied,” Eviota said, the original and official FB page of Cebu City… It has since been used for the purpose.” And Eviota noticed on January 5, 2022 -- the same day it was officially recorded on FB -- that the said “original and official FB page, a property of the Cebu City Government,” was renamed “Cebu Updates.”

Would FB rules apply to a situation where from December 27, 2021 the City Government was deemed to have abandoned its “original and official” FB page when it renamed its “Cebu City -- Barugg TV” page to “Cebu City*News & Information” to make it serve the function of the original PIO page?

Did “Cebu City News*Information” substitute or replace the original page? But would that excuse or justify the alleged unlawful access and computer-related identity theft, which the City alleges in a criminal complaint and former city administrator Paul Villarete called a “hijacking”?

[4] PURPOSE OF COMPLAINT. In the question-and-answer document attached to Rosit’s complaint, the acting PIO said her complaint is for the crimes of illegal access and computer-related identity theft, both under Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

The respondents -- namely Christian Tura of Mabolo and Erwin de la Cerna of Victor Village, Punta Princesa, both of Cebu City -- “unlawfully entered the official page of Cebu City without legitimate authority” as they are “neither administrators nor officers” affiliated with the City’s PIO. And allegedly without the City’s consent, which may be disproved by an authorization the current officials didn’t know anything about or just forgot.

While Rosit announced with her filing of the complaint the City’s intent to recover the “hijacked” page, that’s a means of redress provided by Facebook, under its system and rules. A party aggrieved by the FB ruling might go to court to defend its property rights. Determining criminal liability, of course, rests on determining ownership. The rightful owner cannot be sanctioned for unlawful access or identity theft.

[5] DAMAGE TO CITY GOVERNMENT. The crimes, if proven, would make the City a crime victim. The rightful owner of the digital asset has been “deprived of its use, management, administration and control” by “illegally intercepting and altering” the password and other means of access.

The unauthorized use, the complaint said, has also caused damage to the city officials maligned by the criticisms posted on the page. “It has been used to commit libel, as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code through a computer system,” the City alleged.

To the elective officials who may seek reelection in May 2025, it must hurt them more that equipment, which they themselves could use to promote their good deeds, is being used to expose or criticize their alleged bad deeds. The page as propaganda tool of the administration could now be propaganda tool of its would-be rivals in the next election.

Neither side admits to that, with “Cebu Updates” insisting it publishes both the good and the ugly of City Hall and it doesn’t write the news but merely posts or reposts materials originally published elsewhere. The City Government, for its part, says it is seeking to stop the use of disinformation and false news against the local government unit (LGU).

The request to the police candidly said the page was “being used to attack the mayor and his administration.” Which “Cebu Updates” also exploits by raising an outcry against “suppression of legitimate criticism.”

[6] POLICE ANTI-CYBERCRIME HELP. The PNP Anti-Cybercrime Unit-7 helped in building evidence against Tura and de la Cerna by storing and preserving FB Live recordings of the two administrators.

[7] WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF PIO GETS BACK THE PAGE? First of all, it would stop the alleged continuing attacks against the mayor and its officials.

The PIO might shut it down and thus decommission one piece of artillery that’s allegedly firing at the Rama administration but sparing possible rivals in the 2025 elections. Critics, who are suspected to be lobbing shots from “Cebu Updates,” could set up another page but might have to build its audience afresh.

Or City Hall could add the page -- with some changes in name, format or design -- to its various media platforms. It might keep most of its audience if it could provide interesting and useful content without sniping at local officials.

Avoiding another “Cebu Updates” situation must instruct chiefs of LGUs to be careful with information/propaganda assets, even if a mayor or governor would’ve no political or personal interest in keeping it in LGU control. At least, there’s a responsible entity to account for what’s published, as well as a specified norm of accountability.

The public would know where the crap is coming from and how to deal with it.


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