By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star)
MANILA, Philippines - The government is acting on the spread of fake news in social networking sites that have misled the public, especially in connection with recent incidents of national significance.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II yesterday said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has been tasked to run after the sources of fake news that have been circulating on Facebook and Twitter.
Aguirre specifically directed the NBI to start with the fake news that circulated in social media following the attack on Resorts World Manila (RWM) last week and the attack in Marawi City by Islamic State (IS)-inspired Maute group on May 23.
When the attack in RWM took place last June 2, several social media posts claimed the IS took responsibility for the attack even after a lone gunman, a former government employee addicted to gambling, was named.
The posts caused panic and fear among netizens.
Several media outfits also reported a statement of IS owning up to the attack at RWM from the terror group’s supposed website.
In the siege of Marawi City by local terror group Maute, several fake photos also circulated online and were even reported in mainstream media.
Also recently, several fake news items circulated on Facebook, including the supposed sympathy extended by former Commission on Human Right chair Etta Rosales to Maute militants and actress-singer Sharon Cuneta allegedly contracting HIV.
A video released by the IS’s Amaq news agency, taken in Marawi City as the siege entered its second week, showed some militants yelling “Allahu Akbar” while smashing religious icons and burning the church.
Clerics slammed the video as demonic and blasphemous, as it showed the militants ripping a picture of Pope Francis, toppling a crucifix and stomping on and torching statues.
The regional Darul Iftah in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) also branded the video as “un-Islamic.”
The Darul Iftah, also known as the House of Opinions, is a group of moderate clerics in the ARMM.
The group released a statement condemning the desecration of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi City, which they said is against the teachings of the Koran.
ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said vandalism of non-Islamic worship sites is a serious offense in Islam.
“The destruction of the church in Marawi City was done by people introducing themselves as Muslims but are not adhering to the teachings of Islam. They are not Muslims therefore,” Hataman said.
“They are so reckless in quoting verses in the Qu’ran in perverse manners to suit their perverse interests. They are unworthy of promises of divine graces from Allah,” he said.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Eduardo Año said the Maute group is trying to spark a religious war in desecrating the church in Marawi.
He said the video, which was traced to the Middle East, was a carefully plotted but failed propaganda attempt aimed at further inflaming hatred among Muslims and Christians in the Philippines.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the military has asked Facebook and other social media outfits to remove posts of the video. He also appealed to netizens not to share the video.
“There are videos circulating around regarding the armed elements destroying a church. We have requested that these be pulled out, because it may fan hate and it is intended by these militants to induce other Christian elements to fight against these armed elements or to sow hatred among Christians and Muslims,” Padilla said in a press briefing in Malacañang.
“Please do not spread this. Let us not buy into the plan of these terror groups to inflame the feelings of our other religions. This is not a religious war, this is a terror attack on the city of Marawi and we must be clear about it,” he added.
Padilla called on users of social networking sites to be responsible in sharing content, noting that many now get their news from the internet.
“The spreading of inaccurate news and disinformation can affect the minds of people. If they think it is true, the disinformation will grow and make it worse,” he said.
The Maute gunmen are still holding captive Fr. Teresito Suganob, the parish priest of Marawi City. Suganob and several volunteer church workers and worshippers were taken by the terrorists as they fled when soldiers arrived to drive them away.
A video also circulated online showing Suganob appealing to the President to stop the military offensives in Marawi City. – John Unson, Alexis Romero, AP