Seares: Cebu City Hall goes after 'usurpation' of FB page, not against its content. Cebu Updates says city officials are evading public issues.

Seares: Cebu City Hall goes after 'usurpation' of FB page, not against its content. Cebu Updates says city officials are evading public issues.
Right photo from Jing Kee Rosit's Facebook account

[] Would the City, through its public information officer, have sued if "Cebu Updates" hadn't been criticizing the City Government?

[] Did the City lose control over the page when it didn't assert its claim when LGU administrations changed?

IT TOOK about seven months for City Hall to prepare for a complaint with city prosecutors since Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama ordered his lawyers last July 2023 to sue.

Apparently annoyed by the direct fire and sniping from the Facebook page that calls itself Cebu Updates, Rama told the City Legal Office to collect evidence against the social media account and the persons managing it.

What must have pissed off the mayor was that the page was previously controlled by the City Government, through office of the city mayor and the public information office (P.I.O.) but for a long time now has been used to pelt criticisms at Rama, the current occupant, and his administration.

CITY HALL'S THRUST may be seen from the complaint filed Monday, February 5, 2024, with the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor. The complaint, signed for the City by P.I.O. Estela Grace "Jing Kee" Rosit and prepared by lawyers of the Cebu City Legal Office:

(1) Charges two operators of Cebu Updates, namely, Erwin dela Cerna and Christian Tura, with illegal access and computer-related identity theft under Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012;

(2) Declares intent to regain ownership of Cebu Updates, which it asserts, being the official FB page of the P.I.O., is the property of the City.

ISSUE OF OWNERSHIP, on which City Hall charges of illegal access and identity theft rest, is easily resolved if only the original ownership needs to be determined.

A January 9, 2023 MyCebu blog by Max Limpag (under "Leon Kilat: The Tech Experiments") verified this information from FB:

[] Cebu Updates was created on May 2, 2012, with the name "Cebu Cit Public Information Office" during the 2010-2013 term of Mayor Rama;

[] The name was slightly changed on August 3, 2016 to "City of Cebu, Public Information Office" and on January 27, 2018 back to "Cebu City Public Information Office," both during the 2016-2019 term of mayor Tomas Osmeña;

[] After mayor Edgardo Labella's death, another City Hall FB page was created November 9, 2021 with the name "Barug Sugbo TV." The Rama P.I.O. then used Barug Sugbo TV instead of the old P.I.O. page.

[] The old page, no longer used by the P.I.O., was renamed on January 5, 2022 to Cebu Updates. Apparently by those who led its team of administrators, including the former city administrator, Atty. Floro Casas Jr.

SO WHO OWNS 'CEBU UPDATES'? No dispute about the original owner: clearly, the City Government through its P.I.O.

What needs to be resolved is the ownership of the page after it was no longer used by the P.I.O. and was left to previously designated administrators. Did the City retain ownership even if it was not being used by City Hall especially after its name was changed?

Here, the FB rules must govern. The crucial question of "owning" a page, its nature, how it is acquired, and how it is lost will determine whether the prosecuted operators were probably guilty of illegal access and identity theft. They couldn't be guilty of any of those crimes if the City already lost its ownership of the page or dela Cerna and Tura were "duly designated" administrators.

WHO FUMBLED? From May 2012 to November 2021, ownership was indubitably with the City Government through the P.I.O. It was on November 9, 2021 when Barug Sugbo TV was created and used to replace the old FB page that doubts were cast on the ownership.

Apparently, the administrators didn't turn over the page to the P.I.O. and instead used it as their own, or more precisely, the Labella wing of Barug. Cerwin Eviota, predecessor of Jing Kee Rosit, told Max Limpag the page wasn't turned over to their team. Another source told Limpag that wasn't the case.

The case was not about the lack of a formal turnover. It could just be the failure to get the administrators changed, from mayor Labella's people to Mayor Rama's.

MAYBE NOT REALIZED QUICKLY by the P.I.O. at the time was the value of the old FB page's audience, accumulated through the years but hasn't been beneficial to the Rama administration and, on the contrary, destructive to it. Not appreciated at once was the fact that it could be used for the Rama government, as it has been gleefully used by its critics.

What must hurt deeply is that the page could've been used -- still could be if recovered by City Hall at this stage -- as part of City Hall's massive propaganda apparatus.

Though apparently employed to lob criticisms against the Rama government and boost chances of his possible rival in 2025, Cebu Updates may still confuse long-time readers who have regarded it as source of City Hall information. That audience was built, using city government personnel and equipment. A waste to the current administration, which could use it for its own interest.

GOVERNANCE ISSUES 'EVADED.' Expectedly, Cebu Updates' public answer to the initial moves of City Hall was to assail its method. Instead of replying to the issues, the page said, the City is going to court.

"Unsa ni, martial law?" Obviously not. If it were martial law, "tua na sila sa prisohan ug wa nay anti-Rama comment on Facebook." They're being harassed, "gigukod," the page complained.

The issue of ownership needs to be threshed out to determine liability under the cyber-crime law. As to the issues on governance raised by Cebu Updates, City Hall has many platforms to answer them from, the private media on top of its own massive propaganda arsenal.

IRONIC, IT WOULD BE if the issue of press freedom was used by Cebu Updates. Cebu Updates, in a way, is or was City Hall media "gone rouge." From being part of the City Hall arsenal, it has been converted into an anti-administration weapon.


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