At a time when criticism of government iniquity is of utmost necessity, the Aquino administration flouts our fundamental rights by pushing for the constitutionality of online libel under Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
The Supreme Court rightfully removed a few of the patently unconstitutional and repressive aspects of RA 10175, including provisions on giving government the power to collect and monitor real-time data, as well as to take down websites or online content it deems violative of the law without court warrant. We applaud the high court for that. But it alarms us that many other provisions of this draconian law were declared constitutional. Especially alarming is its approval of online libel—this provision now clearly defines the Cybercrime Law.
Members of the press are very familiar with criminal libel as an instrument of the powerful, influential and moneyed to threaten and cow them to silence. Many a journalist has paid a heavy price for defying such threats and simply doing their job. Media groups have been campaigning for years to decriminalize libel, as it creates a “chilling effect” on journalists and impedes on our constitutionally-protected freedom of the press and expression. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in October 2011, even agreed with the Philippine media advocacy and human rights groups, and called our existing libel law “excessive” and violative of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in which the Philippine government is a signatory.
That the Aquino administration, specifically its Department of Justice, actively campaigned to have the law passed and nodded on by the high court says much about the Presidency’s contempt for criticism. For the past three years, the administration has clearly wielded a strong influence on the dominant media. To bolster its image and deflect criticism, the administration has employed the most cunning of public relations and social media teams to direct the public attention away from the increasing poverty and destitution among Filipinos. Now, with RA 10175, it wields another weapon against criticism: the threat of online libel, the force of criminal prosecution against those who would criticize the President and its policies.
Many journalists and those of the alternative press have strived to be the critical voices in these times. They have put the administration to task for its neoliberal economic policies, its abandonment of its duty to deliver social services, its acquiescence to the increasing US military presence in the country, and many others. The alternative press has consistently criticized the Aquino administration and its allies for enormously benefiting from the corrupt pork barrel system. It has been most pointed in its criticism of the Aquino administration’s criminal neglect of the many victims of calamities and the corruption within government rehabilitation plans. It provides space for marginalized voices in Philippine society.
The Internet, despite its still-limited reach, has been the democratic space where the alternative press often disseminates its stories. Many citizens use it to express their own criticisms of the government and the political and economic system. Workers, for instance, take to the Internet to express their criticism of their employers and their poor labor conditions. Students and the youth have been known to extensively use the Internet to criticize school officials and administrators as well as critique the government’s policy of budget cuts to education. Other sectors have also maximized the Internet to advocate for their basic democratic rights. The online medium, meanwhile, has also been used as a tool for organizing protest, as evidenced by the huge, anti-pork barrel protests last year.
It is clearly because of these practices that the Aquino administration has been pushing hard for RA 10175. It is no stretch to call the law “e-Martial Law”. During the Marcos regime, Martial Law was employed to stifle dissent as the dictatorship instituted policies that paved the way for further deregulation of the economy and privatization of public assets and social services, and reinforcement of the monopoly control of big landlords over agricultural lands.
Similarly, Aquino pressed for the Cybercrime Law as his administration entered into more Public-Private Partnerships, consented to massive land grabbing, paved the way for more US military intervention and pushed for other policies detrimental to people’s interests. It is but the newest addition to the government’s already-stacked arsenal for political repression that includes extrajudicial killings, disappearances, political persecution, and other measures under its counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan.
The alternative press is one with all freedom-loving Filipinos who have no recourse but fight these measures and uphold our right to criticize government iniquity. Together, we must challenge the Cybercrime Law in all available spaces, from filing a Motion for Reconsideration before the Supreme Court, to taking our campaign to the Internet, and even to the streets.
Let this be the clarion call of our times: Resist Aquino’s e-Martial Law.