You can be fined ₱5,000 for making COVID-19 jokes in Valenzuela City

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 22) — The Valenzuela City government is not taking jokes about COVID-19 lightly.

Ordinance No. 708 or the "Bawal ang COVID-19 Jokes" Ordinance penalizes anyone who would "willfully and maliciously" convey and disseminate "false information of COVID-19 infection or malicious imputation of COVID-19 sickness on another person, class or groups of persons."

Violators face an administrative penalty of ₱5,000 or will be required to render socio-cultural services in Valenzuela City, such as re-packing of relief goods, distribution of these aid in various barangays, or other community service activities.

“Marami kaming complaints na nakukuha mula sa mga pamilya ng mga naging biktima. Some of them pati ‘yong mga nag negative na two times at nakauwi na,” said Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian.

[Translation: We are getting a lot of complaints from affected families. Some of them have tested negative twice and have come home already.]

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ News.PH on Friday, Gatchalian said that making fun of this serious health crisis can be compared to making bomb joke in airports.

“Bottom line, kailangan matutunan ng tao na COVID is no joke. COVID can happen to anyone.”

[Translation: Bottom line is that people should learn that COVID is no joke. It can happen to anyone.]

For those who fail to comply with these obligations, cases shall be filed against them before the Metropolitan Trial Court of Valenzuela City if the malicious claim is made, printed, or published in the city, or if the violator resides in the city. They can face imprisonment of not more than 30 days or a fine of ₱5,000, or both, depending on the decision of the court, the ordinance states.

“We will also be very careful. Hindi tayo basta huli lang nang huli,” Gatchalian said.

[Translation: We will also be very careful. We will not carelessly arrest people.]

The measure was passed by the City Council on May 14, and released to the media on Friday.

Minors aged 15 years old and below who would violate the ordinance will be released to the custody of their parents or guardians. Local authorities should coordinate with the City Social Welfare and Development Office on the proper intervention program for the child.

Violators who are 16 to 17 years old shall be turned over to the city's social welfare office within eight hours after they are apprehended.

The Office of the City Mayor and the Philippine National Police are tasked to implement the ordinance, along with other authorized officers.

Valenzuela City, along with the rest of Metro Manila and several provinces, are under a modified enhanced community quarantine, marked by stay-at-home orders and suspension of most work and mass transport. Much of the country is under a more relaxed general community quarantine as coronavirus infections continue to rise.

The country now has more than 13,000 COVID-19 cases, with 3,000 recoveries and over 800 deaths.