De Lima seeks probe into possible abuse of subpoena powers by NBI


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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a Senate resolution seeking to probe the possible misuse and abuse of subpoena powers by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) after they summoned private citizens over their social media posts related to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

De Lima filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 419 directing the appropriate Senate committee to conduct an inquiry into exercise of the subpoena power granted to the NBI under Republic Act No. 10867, or the “National Bureau Of Investigation Reorganization And Modernization Act” , which got some quarters worrying that it may have used as an instrument of supressing free expression and stifling  dissent.

“It is necessary to determine whether the Constitution and statutes are violated in the issuance of NBI of subpoenas against social media posts which merely express an opinion on matters relating to their and the rest of the society’s rights,” she said.

It can be noted that Section 4 (b) of RA No. 10867 grants the NBI the power to “[i]ssue subpoena for the appearance of any person for investigation or production of documents, through its officers from the ranks of Regional Director to Director.”

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra ordered the NBI to go after peddlers of fake news involving COVID-19 in February while NBI Director Eric Distor ordered different units of the NBI to investigate “all possible sources of fake news being spread in various social media platforms” one month after.

As of April, the Department of Justice (DOJ), through the NBI, has reportedly summoned more than a dozen people already over their social media posts critical to the government’s response amid the pandemic, including a Filipino citizen who called out the government’s spending in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19.

De Lima lamented that that neither the NBI nor the DOJ has provided a definition to the term “fake news” nor publicly laid the parameters in determining the grounds on which a social media public post can be considered as “fake news”.

“[The NBI and DOJ also failed to explain] how the aforementioned social media post fall within the NBI’s reported goal of issuing subpoenas to prevent the propagation of ‘those reports that sow chaos and will lead to unrest and anarchy in the country,’” she added.

In filing the measure, De Lima likewise reminded the government that the country is fighting against a deadly virus and not against private citizens who simply exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech in order to exact accountability and promote good governance.

“Public scrutiny is necessary in exposing the response made by the government and its officials to the impact of the crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in engendering a free exchange of ideas between society and government agencies to help solve the crisis,” she said.

“The use of the Bayanihan Act, Cybercrime Prevention Act, and other similar laws to suppress dissent and persecute political opposition is not only unconstitutional, but a grave abuse of authority by the NBI and is ultimately detrimental to our democracy,” she added. (30)

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