The Politicians’ Revenge

The recently passed Cybercrime Law (R.A. 10175) is “frightening and chilling”.

 So points out Fr. Joaquin Bernas: The law threatens “freedom of expression and privacy of communication but also the sacred right of people to be secure… against government intrusion.” Among others, the new law allows for the search and seizure of private property upon mere prima facie evidence as determined by the Dept. of Justice. Such seizure is now only allowed upon a court warrant. Facebook, emails and twitter are no longer safe.This is the stuff of KGB and the Gestapo.

DOJ. Sec. De Lima, the former Chair of the Commission on Human Rights, vowed her office will not abuse its discretion. Unfortunately she does not guarantee the same of her successors nor of the underworld of fiscals, prosecutors and judges who will take this law to town.

R.A. 10175  has made “online libel” a crime even as the UN  Human Rights Council calls for libel to be decriminalized. Its sponsors claim the law will “level the playing field” between (responsible) journalists of traditional media and (irresponsible) bloggers et al. of the digital space. Yet the new law increases eight-fold the penalty for crimes like libel when committed online as when committed offline. Is this their definition of level?

And there is more but these have been sufficiently laid out in the various petitions filed with the Supreme Court. These have been joined by Senators Guingona (the only one to have opposed the bill), Alan Cayetano and Escudero. The latter at least have the courage and decency to admit to their mistake.

Unfortunately, Malacanang is not man enough to do likewise. Worse, it is dismissive. Spokesperson Valtes asks are we not ‘a little paranoid”? The Legislature, she assures us,  has studied the bill at length. Her presumption is all 309 Congressmen and Senators read its final version in the same way, I guess, they read the Corona Articles of Impeachment. Oh, to be young and innocent again.

She also assures us the Office of the President vetted the statute so we should be fine. With this kind of quality control should we be “a little paranoid”?

Legislative procedures allow parties to file midnight amendments to bills many of which (hopefully?) fly under the radar. This seems to be the case with the Cybercrime law. Thus, the provision on libel was not in the House version but was introduced by certain Senators who have been “victims” of cyberbullying. Even Sen. Escudero, a co-author of the bill, admits to having missed the onerous additions to his work.

The Palace said it welcomes all the Supreme Court petitions, perhaps an acknowledgment it was not quite on it. Mr. President, your people missed the beat. Can you accept your constituents can sometimes be right? Can you at least reconsider your work or is that asking too much?

The National Union of Journalists said the new law is “sneaky” and shows the Aquino Government is “no friend of press freedom”.

I would not go so far but I get their drift. The bill started as a worthy initiative to combat online fraud and cybersex. Like Frankenstein, however, it became an unintended monster thanks to politicians who had either been “cyberbullied“ by social media or fear to be so in the coming election (Understand that cyberbullying to a politician is public accountability to the rest of us). The timing of its passage suggests this even as the RH and Sin Tax bills languish.This is their Revenge.  In the meantime the statute sailed past Malacanang who either never read it or appreciated its consequences.

The upshot is a law that has scary implications for individual freedom. Imagine Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a nuclear weapon. That is what will happen when R.A.10175 gets into the wrong hands. Big Brother says not to worry, just trust him, he will never abuse his powers. That he needs to say this is frightening in itself. The last person who so comforted us forty years ago stuck us with a very long tab. We do not want a law that is dependent on the Government’s good will.

It is ironic that an Administration that has vowed transparency and democracy has on the 40th anniversary of martial law passed a law that violates our constitutional rights even as it has held back on the Freedom of Information Act. The internet is our EDSA and social media our People Power. They are what allow us to hold our public officials accountable. With the Cybercrime Law our elected representatives have rolled out the tanks to silence us.

The Supreme Court has the opportunity to display its independence from the Legislature and the Executive by striking down what is a brazen, amateurish and disgraceful attempt under the cover of “leveling the playing field” to put us to sleep.

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About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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4 Responses to The Politicians’ Revenge

  1. eurose matriz says:

    your second paragraph was my initial concern upon reading the law…. let’s say this administration will indeed… not abuse, but what about the succeeding individuals to handle the top positions in the land? it’s now a law with coverage subject to abuse…. what will happen then? i hope the powers that be would step back and look at this things in other people’s point of view maybe then they would see the whole thing and reconsider as well as see things they might have overlook being to close to the subject being discussed here.

  2. thesocietyofhonor says:

    To the extent that the President was ignorant as to the ramifications of the bill when he signed it, he can be excused because the libel language was inserted in stealth with no debate or public airing. To the extent he still argues for the law carte blanche, after all the concerns expressed in the Supreme Court appeals, he is looking quite ridiculous and non-caring about citizens who engage on line.

    Law enforcement prowling on-line without warrant is common even in advanced societies like the U.S. We all need to accept that old-school privacy, where people would not ask your age, religion or sexual persuasion, is a thing of the past. If you want the advantage of working on line, you accept that google will track your clicks and cops who suspect you of involvement in a crime will check out your facebook records. It’s the way we are, and what we need to accept to have an open, uncensored online community..But thuggish rules that permit shutting down web sites on weak justification ought not be allowed.

  3. evenstarwen says:

    I cannot decide which possibility bothers me more: that the president did study the entire law carefully and failed to see the glaring red flags, or that he dropped the ball and decided to stand just by his mistake anyway, because his pride won’t let him admit it. Both are unworthy of a true leader.

    Very well written post. It pinned down some thoughts about the issue that I haven’t been able to articulate until I read this.

  4. Pingback: The Cybercrime Law, RH Bill, and a Call to Vigilance | Evenstarlight

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