A very good article by Jojo Robles, published first in manilastandardtoday.com

SHUTTING DOWN ONLINE DISSENT

By: Jojo Robles

Think before you click, they say on the Net. Yes, or you could actually land in jail, even just for “liking” or sharing something libelous on Facebook.

Upon the passage of Republic Act 10175, or the Anti-Cybercrime Law recently, I noted that the most onerous and unpalatable section of the new statute was the one which made libel on the Internet a crime. It took some time for netizens to appreciate this fact—but when they did, they certainly made their opposition known.

On social networks like Facebook and Twitter, on blogs and various other online fora, a protest against RA 10175 is gaining strength. A group of more militant cyber-warriors calling itself Anonymous Philippines has taken the battle a step further, by hacking into and defacing every government Web site it can enter.

But the online mass action is not getting the government to budge one bit. The Supreme Court has deferred action on seven petitions seeking to declare the law unconstitutional, and Malacañang Palace has been acting like there is no protest at all.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, where the section making online libel punishable by the same penalties meted out to those found guilty of traditional libel laws that govern media was born, no one seems to want to take responsibility. Those who signed the bill—including the section on online libel—could only admit that they didn’t read the provision.

Senator Tito Sotto, the supposed author of an amendment which introduced the cyber-libel provision, has denied that it came from him—despite the mute testimony of the Senate journal of Jan. 24, which clearly states that he inserted the offending provision. Sotto complained that he’s become the favorite whipping boy in the social media, even if he insists he has nothing to do with the libel provision.

Meanwhile, reelectionist Senator Francis Escudero, who signed off on the Senate bill, said he is filing a new piece of legislation that will amend the libel portion, in a belated move at damage control that did not escape the notice of online protesters. Does Escudero even read the laws he signs?

But without Supreme Court action to stop the law’s implementation, there is no stopping its taking effect starting today, Oct. 3. And the cherished anonymity, raucous freedom of expression and democratic noise that has defined the use of the Internet in this country could come to an abrupt end.

* * *

The move of the Aquino administration and its allies in Congress to rein in the freedoms of Internet users, as I’ve noted previously, is truly ironic. This, after all, is a government that was installed in part through its use of social media and the Internet in the last elections—and which even has an entire bureaucracy geared towards the cultivation of Facebook, Twitter and other online media to continue to drum up popular support for it.

And yes, this administration promised us a landmark Freedom of Information bill that would make its dealings transparent, only to hit us over the head with a cybercrime law that makes criticism of official action an actual crime. Apparently, freedom of expression online for President Noynoy Aquino is limited to praising whatever the administration does—and since it cannot control Netizens the way it has co-opted the traditional media of print and broadcast, it has decided to pass a law against its Internet critics.

(It comes as no surprise that the top proponent of the proposed FOI law, Rep. Erin Tañada, was dropped from the Liberal Party Senate lineup in favor of the returning Jamby Madrigal, who now shares the LP stage with wannabe senator Rep. Cynthia Villar, wife of Madrigal’s Enemy Number One Manny Villar. As Cynthia Villar explains it, everyone has moved on—including, apparently, the administration, in its support of transparency and freedom of expression.)

But now, there is simply no other way for the Aquino administration but to suspend the implementation of the cybercrime law, if it truly cares about its online image. A reversion to the original bill, which rightly criminalized hacking, fraud and child pornography, among other clear online crimes (but which was silent on libel), is the only way the government can get out of this controversy unscathed.

Apart from the gargantuan, China-like monitoring apparatus required to implement RA 10175, which this government certainly cannot afford, there is also the constitutional provision which states that no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of people to peaceably assemble and petition government for redress of grievances (Article III, Section 4). The constitutional protection of the freedom of speech certainly looks like it is under direct attack from RA 10175’s libel provision, which should at the very least be reviewed before it is implemented.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible that Aquino has convinced himself that he does not owe anything to the netizens who campaigned for him in 2010, which is why he feels he can now trample on their rights with impunity. For these people, the line for disillusioned former Aquino supporters forms there, where the Iglesia ni Cristo and other forgotten Noynoy boosters are.

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