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The Rundown: Fake Facebook accounts, citizens stranded, Independence Day ‘mañanita’

Facebook users across the country were caught in grips of paranoia in the past week as duplicate accounts bearing their names popped up across the platform. All the while, debate on the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020 continued to gather steam surrounding the country’s Independence Day celebrations.

The LaSallian recaps the mysterious surge of suspicious Facebook accounts, continued clamor against the Anti-Terrorism Bill, continuing struggles faced by stranded citizens, and ABS-CBN’s ongoing legal battle in the House of Representatives.

Fake Facebook accounts

Alarm spread among Facebook users last Sunday, June 7, as accounts with empty profiles and names identical to students, faculty, public officials, and journalists began to surface across the platform. The emergence of the clone accounts led to speculation that they may be used to target opponents of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, as well as raised questions over their origins considering the investment of time or resources needed to advance their widespread proliferation. 

As Lasallians began to report these suspicious accounts themselves, DLSU’s Data Privacy Office released a memo advising students to remain vigilant by filing reports to Facebook and refraining from interacting with the profiles.

In emails to several news agencies, Facebook responded that it has not yet discovered proof of “malicious activity focused on creating fake accounts”, but will continue investigations.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), meanwhile, surmised that a glitch was the reason behind the fake accounts. NBI Cybercrime Division chief Victor Lorenzo is convinced that there are sufficient safeguards in Facebook’s system, putting forward, “Glitch lang ito dahil napakahirap mag-create ng account ngayon sa Facebook, especially kapag madami kang kini-create na account under one ID, one cellphone number, [and] one location.”

(It is probably a glitch, because it is very hard to create multiple Facebook accounts linked to one ID, one cellphone number, and one location.)

Police officials have also reiterated that those found guilty of committing online identity theft may face up to 12 years in prison, in accordance with the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Domestic plight

More than 400 stranded citizens have been forced to take shelter under the Skyway flyover near Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 in the past week after the flights they hoped to board never came. Workers hoped to depart from Manila to return to their home provinces after domestic flights were allowed under General Community Quarantine, but conflicting guidelines with local government units forced airlines to ground their planes. 

Stranded passengers were forced to live in squalid conditions under the flyover, relying on donations, until officials took the remaining stranded individuals to Villamor Air Base for temporary shelter.

Hope for transport remained dire elsewhere. Reports surfaced on June 11 of a 33-year-old woman who passed away last June 5, after waiting five days at a Pasay City footbridge for a bus home to Camarines Sur. The woman was thought to have died from severe complications arising from COVID-19. Police officers attempted to help the woman after a call was received from a concerned citizen, but she was declared dead on arrival at the Pasay City General Hospital. 

The dire need for available transportation also forced the government to indefinitely suspend its Balik Probinsya program, which aimed to bring workers back home to their provinces. Airline companies such as Cebu Pacific, meanwhile, announced that they are coordinating with the government to increase the number of available flights. 

Bayanihan continues

A total of P550-billion has so far been allocated by the government to addressing the COVID-19 crisis under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said that the money will be used to help “the poor and low income” and small businesses,  sectors that have been heavily hit by the economic slump. Chua added that the government is looking to support “key sectors in agriculture, OFWs, [and the] health care system.”

Meanwhile, last Thursday, June 11, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) began the second phase of the Social Amelioration Program. DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista announced that at present 1.3 million beneficiaries had received cash assistance from the government under its first phase. A total of P196-billion has also been transferred to the DSWD by the Department of Budget and Management.

ABS-CBN ownership questioned again

After questioning the citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III to little avail, lawmakers have shifted their focus to suspected foreign ownership of the company, particularly, the Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDR) sold by the media network to foreign entities. 

ABS-CBN’s legal counsel Cynthia del Castillo defended the financial instruments, explaining that holders of PDRs are only entitled to cash dividends and are not granted management or ownership rights unlike regular shareholders. Other media networks, including GMA-7 and TV5, have also issued PDRs to foreign entities.

“PDRs are purely financial instruments. Hindi po siya shares. Hindi po siya nakakaboto sa ABS-CBN Broadcasting at hindi po siya nakaka-participate sa management ng ABS-CBN Broadcasting,” del Castillo explained.  

(They are not shares. They can neither vote nor participate in the management of ABS-CBN Broadcasting.)

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is set to tackle on July 13 ABS-CBN’s plea for a temporary restraining order against the shutdown imposed on it by the National Telecommunications Commission.

Independence Day mañanita 

A Grand Mañanita was held at University of the Philippines Diliman last Friday, June 12, amid the 122nd Independence Day celebrations. Despite police warnings that mass gatherings were prohibited under quarantine measures, protesters took to the streets bearing placards in opposition to the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020.

Rallyists, armed with roses, karaoke sets, and party food, satirically argued that the protest was a mañanita⁠, in reference to Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas’ controversial birthday party last May 8 that violated quarantine protocols—an event that police Chief Gen. Archie Gamboa justified by describing it merely as a mañanita⁠.

Gabriela Youth, College Editors Guild of the Philippines, and Anakpawis Partylist were among the groups participating in the mobilization. Hundreds of protesters took care to maintain physical distancing and wore masks during the day-long event. The demonstrators clamored for an escalated response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the scrapping of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which now only needs President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature to become law.

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