“We have to continue blogging and tweeting. We should not be afraid.” – blogger Antonio Ian Cruz
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA –Seventeen-year-old Charlotte Velasco, a second year student at the University of the Philippines – Manila, said, in her social networking sites, her life is an “open book”.
“It is only through here that I can express myself. This includes some of my life’s light moments to serious national issues,” Velasco told Bulatlat.com.
Velasco said she is using social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr for several years now, where, like other users, she would like, share and retweet posts of her “friends” and those who she is “following.” Aside from these social networking sites, she also blogs through the blogging platform WordPress.
Velasco grew up under the fast changing and ever evolving world of information and communication technology. Communication scholars would refer to the likes of Velasco as “digital natives.”
And while she is confident that she is not posting anything libelous online, Velasco is opposing the controversial Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 as it impinges on the Filipino’s freedom of expression as guaranteed by the country’s constitution.
Lately, Velasco said she is particularly fond of Pixel Offensive, an internet meme, who now regularly posts about the cybercrime law, among other social issues. “Am I going to be a criminal just because of that?” she said, “I will not limit my posts. I know that I am not a criminal just because I retweeted the stands of student groups,”
“I call on the Supreme Court to junk the cybercrime law. It will only repress ordinary citizens like us,” she added.
Velasco is among the activists and netizens who gathered in front of the Supreme Court to urge the high court to rule against the Cybercrime law.
Pat Santos, vice president of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, said the cybercrime law should not hinder students like her and Velasco from posting on social networking sites and the new media. “During the time of martial law, silence was never an answer. We should continue posting,” she said.
Santos said the government wants to limit Filipino netizens’ posts on social networking sites and the new media to the likes of “good morning, good night and pictures of your pet dogs.”
“We are not going to allow this,” she added, “If ever they succeed in silencing us in the internet, then we should all go out to protest.”
Humans are thinking individuals
Tonyo Cruz, a progressive and well-renowned political blogger in the Philippines, was among the netizens who went to the Supreme Court to join the “offline protest” against the cybercrime law.
“We are different from animals because we, humans, can think. And it is what this law would deprive us all once it is implemented,” Cruz said.
Cruz is an award winning blogger. He has nearly 10,000 followers in Twitter, where he would usually encourage smart conversations among netizens about social and national issues. He also gained popularity among Filipino internet users when he introduced #sentisabado, an internet meme on netizens’ childhood memories.
“We have to continue blogging and tweeting. We should not be afraid,” Cruz, one of the petitioners against the cybercrime law, added.
To date, there are now ten different complaints filed before the Supreme Court against the Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
Cybercrime law affects all
But bloggers are not the only ones affected by the internet libel provisions of the cybercrime law. Clemente Bautista, president of KalikasanPartylist, fears that the cybercrime law could be used to silence environmental advocates who use the internet as a venue for spreading their message of environmental protection and ecological awareness, which would almost always include criticisms of the government’s anti-environment policies.
“This cybercrime law would only serve to silence our vocal criticisms of Aquino’s anti-people and anti-environment policies,” Bautista said.
Bautista said even without the cybercrime law, there have an increasing number of activists who are being charged with harassment suits such as libel by both private companies and the government for exposing the ill effects of their projects and policies.
“This will provide eco-destructive companies and erring government officials another means of getting more activists into jail to suppress dissent and resistance to their destruction of our environment,” he added.
‘Cyber martial law’
The Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (Pifa), a group of netizens and bloggers, said the Cybercrime Law is “cyber martial law.” Pifa president Red Tani said Cybercrime law is not democratic and has negative implications on the right to free speech and privacy.
“The Cybercrime Law is testing our country – whether we’re truly a democracy or just a democracy on paper. It is then fitting that some have dubbed it ‘cyber martial law’,” Tani said in a statement.
Karapatan, a human rights organization, said the cybercrime law is a violation of the international human rights obligations of the Aquino government. Cristina Palabay, its secretary general, said they are questioning the law’s constitutionality to provide measures that would give “free reign on authorities to monitor internet traffic data of internet users and to take down sites which they deem ‘libelous’.”
Palabay added that the law has implications on their advocacies as human rights defenders as it “further impedes on our right to articulate the facts on the human rights situation that we gather on the ground and our analyses on the situation.”
“This constitutes several violations of international human rights conventions and declarations, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of which the Philippines, as a signatory, has the obligation to implement,” Palabay said.
Bayan, in its statement, said numerous provisions of the law are unconstitutional. “It constitutes a sweeping intrusion into the people’s freedom of speech, of expression, and of the press, right against unreasonable searches and seizures, and right to privacy and other fundamental freedoms.”
The group said the cybercrime law violates the people’s right to privacy as it allows authorities to monitor and record real-time traffic data even without a court warrant and on the mere basis of due cause.
“We find no comfort in the provision of the law that states that only the origin, destination, size and not content and identity will be monitored and recorded without warrant,” Bayan said, “What is to prevent the authorities from actually prying into content and identity of traffic data when the opportunity presents itself?”
Bayan said they are also questioning why the law increased the penalty for libel and other crimes when committed via the internet. They also criticized how the cybercrime libel may be committed by means of computer systems, including cellphones, storage devices and “any other similar means which may be devised in the future.”
“With the creation of a new offense called “cybercrime through data interference,” the law can be used to assault free speech,” Bayan said.
“The law violates our right to free speech and due process by allowing the DOJ to take down websites even without a court order,” Bayan added, “The DOJ becomes ‘The Great Firewall’ as it is able to restrict access to or takedown websites on the mere determination by the DOJ that the website is prima facie in violation of the cybercrime law.”
Cybercrime discussion deferred next week
The Supreme Court, however, decided not to vote on whether to grant a temporary restraining order reportedly because a number of justices were not present during the regular en banc session as three justices were out for an official business in Croatia.
“The SC did not issue a TRO on the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 petitions which are up for further study,” the Supreme Court spokesperson Ma. Victoria Gleoresty Guerra said in a statement. The high court will reportedly look into the petitions in next week’s en banc session.
Ibon Foundation, an independent think-tank organization, said they are “deeply concerned about the failure of the Supreme Court to immediately act on the petitions questioning” the cybercrime law. The group said that like other groups in the digital age, they maximize the use of information and communication technology to promote their advocacies.
“Given the urgency of the issue, the SC should have acted with due swiftness on the seven petitions filed so far before the High Court against the Cybercrime law, which becomes effective starting today,” Ibon Foundation said in a statement, “But because it deferred action, it further fuels the controversy that has already triggered protests from netizens, including from hackers who have taken down several government websites since last week.”
During the en banc session at the Supreme Court on Oct. 2, KalikasanPartylist joined netizens in asking the Supreme Court to rule against the cybercrime law.
“As advocates of information and communications technology for the people, we uphold the right to freedom of expression. We will not back down from this crackdown on our democratic space in the internet and elsewhere,” Rick Bahague, national coordinator of the Computer Professionals Union, said.
Ibon Foundation said the Supreme Court should intervene and at least temporarily stop the implementation of the law, citing wide opposition to it. “It is unfortunate that the SC chooses not to exercise its discretion and this is detrimental to public interest.”
“As members of the online community, we are stakeholders in the passage of the law. We do not want the Data Privacy Act and the Cybercrime Prevention Act to be amended just so our stakes can be inserted either,” Ime Morales, founder of the Freelance Writers Guild of the Philippines, said, “A fresh start is required in order to embrace the online community.”