How a former Cebu City gov’t Facebook page became a ‘propaganda’ tool

In this photo taken Feb. 5, 2024, Former Cebu City PIO head Estela Grace Rosit (left) along with lawyer Shana Alexandra Perez of the city legal office, files illegal access and computer-related identity theft complaint against two of Cebu Updates program hosts Erwin dela Cerna and Christian Tura before the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor. /
In this photo taken Feb. 5, 2024, Former Cebu City PIO head Estela Grace Rosit (left) along with lawyer Shana Alexandra Perez of the city legal office, files illegal access and computer-related identity theft complaint against two of Cebu Updates program hosts Erwin dela Cerna and Christian Tura before the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor. / WENILYN SABALO

The Cebu City government on Feb. 5, 2024, filed a complaint against operators of a Facebook page that, it claims, had usurped management powers of its Public Information Office (PIO).

Estela Grace Rosit, who has been assistant Cebu City PIO head since March, and who had served as the PIO head when the case was filed, lodged a complaint against private individuals Erwin dela Cerna and Christian Tura, program hosts of the Cebu Updates Facebook page. She cited illegal access and computer-related identity theft under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (READ: It’s complicated: Cebu claims Facebook page ownership, files complaint).

The case highlights the problems caused by the absence of social media management policies among local government units (LGUs) that could make their social media accounts official and institutional.

City Hall’s claim

The city government is asserting ownership of the Cebu Updates page – which had previously served as its official PIO Facebook page – and is bent on regaining ownership.


Rosit, in her judicial complaint-affidavit, claimed that Dela Cerna and Tura “unlawfully entered” the page without legitimate authority, as they are neither administrators nor officers affiliated with the city government PIO.

Some posts from its time as a city PIO page in 2017 are still accessible online as of this writing.

A quick visit to the Transparency section of Cebu Updates also reveals its name change history, from its original identity as the Cebu City PIO page in 2012.

The city government claims there was a proper turnover of the Facebook page from the time of Mayor Michael Rama in 2012 all the way to the succeeding mayors.

However, it failed to compel the previous administration’s personnel to turn over the login credentials of the page to the current PIO. This failure was exacerbated by the lack, if not absence, of a written policy governing the city’s social media accounts.

The city government has filed charges against only two individuals visible on the Cebu Updates page, possibly due to lack of evidence or basis to include other personalities.

Assuming they attempted to regain control of the page, the city government’s PIO likely knew who the previous managers were. The names of these previous managers, however, have yet to surface in a formal complaint as respondents.

Caesar Wenefrido Eviota, also known as Cerwin Eviota, stated in his affidavit that upon his appointment as Public Information Office head by Mayor Rama – following the passing of then-mayor Edgardo Labella in November 2021 – he requested the transfer of access and administration rights for the official Facebook page of Cebu City, then named as “Cebu City Public Information Office.”

However, Eviota claimed that the officer-in-charge of the previous administration, Razel Cuizon, “ignored and subsequently refused” to hand over control of the page.

Cuizon was sought for comment several times, but gave no response.

What’s clear is that the city government failed to regain ownership of the page and the current PIO has had to repurpose another page, renaming it “Cebu City News & Information,” which now functions as the city’s official Facebook page.

Tool for political propaganda?

The former PIO page has turned into a tool for “propaganda ruthlessly manipulated to serve the self-interests of its administrators,” Rosit claimed in her complaint.

“It has become a breeding ground for the spreading of fake news and maligning Cebu City government officials, all fueled by a relentless vendetta against the current administration,” she added.

Political propaganda, in this case, refers to the spreading of biased information, often with the goal of swaying public opinion and advancing a political agenda.

Rama, along with Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia, are among the few personalities in Cebu City who have publicly announced their bid for reelection in the May 2025 midterm elections. (READ: Tandem of Rama, Garcia seeking reelection in 2025 Cebu City polls)

While Cebu Updates aims to present fairly readable content, with some considered media service, it does not hide its dislike of the Rama administration. A majority of the 291 posts on Cebu Updates from Feb. 8 to Feb. 21 (posting period randomly selected), were Rama-related.

During that two-week period, the top five topics of its original and shared content were Rama- and City Hall-related, with 73 posts, followed by shared posts from news and media organizations (61), entertainment posts (39), shared posts from government agencies (38), and public service announcements (18), such as traffic situation updates in Cebu, among others.

Other posts of Cebu Updates for this period included original live streamed shows of its program hosts, including Dela Cerna and Tura, shared posts from Facebook pages of churches like the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, shared posts of current and former government officials, and shared posts from business establishments and non-government organizations.

Moreover, of its 292 Facebook posts from March 2 to March 14 (posting period randomly selected), the majority, or 61, were shared posts from news outlets, followed by original posts (including prompts, announcements, greetings and promotions of products/establishments) at 53; Rama- and City Hall-related posts (52); entertainment posts (34); shared posts from other politicians (22); public service announcements (on traffic, travel schedule, and school announcement) at 20; shared posts from government agencies and local government units (17); shared church-related posts (17), and Facebook Live of its program hosts (16).

It is important to note, however, that most of the Rama-related and City Hall-related content were criticisms of the current administration. Some of Cebu Updates’ posts openly called for Rama’s resignation, with a few of the page’s posts having hashtags such as #RamaNeverAgain and #SaveCebuCity.

Several posts also referred to the mayor of Cebu City as “toxic mayor.”

“Mayor Mike Rama mo larga nasad daw ka sa Taiwan? Onsa man ka oy, wala najud kay pakabana sa syudad? Looy kaayo sige lang kag happy2x #SaveCebuCity,” read a Feb. 21 post of Cebu Updates.

(Mayor Mike Rama, are you leaving for Taiwan again? What’s wrong with you? Don’t you have any concern for the city anymore? It’s really pitiful; you just keep being happy-go-lucky. #SaveCebuCity.)

Although it now labels itself as a media/news company, the Cebu Updates page lacks fundamental journalistic practices, such as transparency and impartiality. The page, for instance, has not completed Meta’s verification process as of this writing.

Cebu Updates’ defense

The Cebu Updates page earlier said the case will not hinder it from “fearlessly” sharing issues in Cebu and other parts of the world. (READ: FB page won’t stop exposing CH anomalies)

“Rest assured that this case will not stop us from fearlessly sharing with you the hottest issues, news, & tsismiz in Cebu, the Philippines & the world,” it said in a Feb. 9 post.


The Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor has yet to determine if the complaint filed by City Hall has probable cause. But in their joint counter-affidavit dated March 11, 2024, Dela Cerna and Tura denied the allegations against them and requested the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor to dismiss the complaint for lack of probable cause.

In this photo from the post of Cebu Updates on March 11, 2024, Christian Tura (left) and Erwin dela Cerna are seen standing outside the Department of Justice Building in Cebu City.
In this photo from the post of Cebu Updates on March 11, 2024, Christian Tura (left) and Erwin dela Cerna are seen standing outside the Department of Justice Building in Cebu City. Photo grabbed from Cebu Updates FB page

The respondents said that contrary to the complainant’s accusations, they are not administrators of the Facebook page “Cebu Updates” as they are “mere talents or anchors invited to conduct live broadcast.”

“We also did not deliberately rename the page from ‘Cebu City Public Information Office’ to ‘Cebu Updates’ since we are not administrators of the page who are capacitated to make any such change,” reads a portion of their joint counter-affidavit.

Sought for comment, lawyer Shana Alexandra Perez of the City Legal Office, in an interview on Viber on March 21, 2024, maintained that there is probable cause to indict Tura and Dela Cerna for the crimes of illegal access and computer-related identity theft “because the complainant has appended all proofs to substantiate her complaint.”

Perez also said they brought the matter to Meta, Facebook’s parent company, to contest the page’s ownership, but they have yet to receive a response.

Tura and Dela Cerna’s joint counter-affidavit did not indicate who the lawyers representing them are, but a source privy to the information confirmed that the law office representing Tura and Dela Cerna is the E.C Labella and Partners Law Office.

A copy of the Motion for Extension of Time to File Counter-Affidavit, signed and filed by lawyers Niño Anthony Silvestrece and Janica Tujan of E.C Labella, indicated they serve as legal counsel for Dela Cerna.

According to the motion for extension, Dela Cerna received a copy of an order dated Feb. 12 on Feb. 20, directing him to submit his counter-affidavit and other supporting evidence or documents to refute the complainant’s evidence within 10 days, or by March 1, upon receipt.

However, Dela Cerna’s lawyers, in the motion for extension, said they had just been recently engaged to represent Dela Cerna in the case, and due to time constraints, requested a 10-day extension until March 11.

Jerone Castillo, former city attorney leading the City Legal Office in this case, in earlier interviews, said cases will soon be filed against more individuals.

Interviews were sought with other individuals who had been seen doing live broadcasts on the Cebu Updates’ page, including a certain Jun Tumulak, “Dagmasla Zeus Sebastian,” and lawyer Floro Casas Jr., who was city administrator during the time of the late mayor Edgardo Labella, but to no avail.

Casas previously admitted to being an administrator of the page in an interview with SunStar columnist and former SunStar editor-in-chief, lawyer Pachico Seares.

In an effort to get his side, Casas was contacted through text messages on Feb. 15, 17, and March 18, 2024, but to no avail. Likewise, calls made on Feb. 17 and March 18 were also canceled. Casas also blocked this writer on Facebook Messenger after an interview was sought, following the filing of the cases against Tura and Dela Cerna, on Feb. 6.

Casas, it was discovered, is affiliated with the E.C Labella & Partners Law Office, where his LinkedIn account indicates he is managing partner – a fact also reflected in his Facebook bio.

While Castillo mentioned possible libel cases, what’s sure now is that the city government is challenging only the page’s ownership and has not yet addressed legally the content posted by the page.

The city government only lodged  the complaint against individuals behind Cebu Updates only in February 2024 – more than a year after the page was reportedly usurped by “outsiders.” (To be concluded)


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