Last week, Senator TG Guingona held the Cybercrime Forum in Café Ibarra, Padre Faura, Manila. There, he, along with Atty. JJ Disini, Filipino Freethinkers President Red Tani, and forum moderator Carlo Ople, explained at length what their respective issues are with the Cybercrime Act, and why they believe it must be amended.
I was there, and I learned a lot of things, both about the bill and about bloggers and mainstream media, in general. With that in mind, here are…
Initially, the Cybercrime law was all about protecting intellectual property rights (Yet a certain senator inserted ONLY a libel provision. Gee, no plagiarism? I wonder why?), fighting internet fraud, and curbing cyber-prostitution. These are all good ideas on paper, but not only was the insertion of the much-maligned libel clause an issue, the broad and vague definitions even in other sections of the bill also opened the law to a wide range of interpretation that leads to a lot of room for abuse.
You mean to tell me that if I commit a crime, using a computer to do it becomes an aggravating circumstance?!? Why?!? What about a computer makes it so special and magical that crimes committed through it are inherently worse than crimes committed without it? This is caprice and arbitrariness rearing its ugly head for all to see.
Yep, that’s how badly-worded the libel clause is, being completely insensitive to the nature of the internet. As Atty. Disini pointed out, an old entry that still exists can be considered as “republished” on a daily basis every single day it’s not taken down. As such, your high school rants about that guy who broke your heart who is now running for Congress in 2013? If they wanted to, they could sue you for it.
Atty. Disini has more bad news for us, unfortunately. Apparently, merely agreeing with a libellous sentiment can itself be a libellous statement itself. That’s like saying “man, that dude was totally getting it on with the cow” is every bit as criminally liable as totally getting it on with the cow yourself. Chew on that (Like the cow did? Ewww.).
When you have lawyers like Atty. Disini and Atty. Acero, who are <b>on the same side,</b> interpreting the same law in wildly varying ways, then there’s a problem. It’s one thing for the average joe to not get the law. It’s another for the people arguing and implementing the law to not get it, too. If they can’t get it, what hope do we have of being treated fairly under this law? Batman would have better odds of getting a fair trial run by the Arkham inmates at this rate.
As the PNP FaceBook page was all too quick to eagerly establish, public officials are already prepared to abuse this law once they are given the green light to do so, and the system to abuse it is built into the law itself. They don’t need to twist the law around too much: all they need to do is enforce it with prejudice against the online gadflies who have been annoying them all this time. They don’t even have to be right! They just need to make sure we have to pay through the nose for litigation while they sit back and use the funds our taxes generated for them. It’s almost like we paid them to sue us! When it comes to public service, clearly, we, the Filipino people, just got served.
Our fears are not unfounded. Yes, just because they may abuse the law does not mean that they will, but are you seriously willing to trust this government to do right by us? The chilling effect, the culture of fear and mistrust, are very real things that we now face because this law gave too much power to everyone except the ones who needed it most: the Filipino people. That law-abiding citizens are suddenly afraid to speak up? That good people are forced to do nothing? Remember what they said is the only thing that needed to happen for evil to triumph? Yeah, that’s about to happen, and we’re completely oblivious to it. And if you happen to be pro-RH or FOI? Well, you’re SOL: the Cybercrime Bill is now the center of attention, and by the time we’re done, the elections will be upon us. Hope the maternal deaths and the undisclosed ill-gotten wealth are all worth it.
That the bill needs amending but not junking cannot be denied. That nobody is being taken in and disappearing for good over a blogpost is also a given. Despite all that, I was wrong the first time I made an 8 List about this issue. We are facing a Cyber Martial Law era. The moment we put the power to take down websites in the hands of the Department Of Justice (Or is it the DeparTURE Of Justice?) instead of the courts through due process, the moment we allowed a vaguely worded law to be interpreted as spitefully as any unscrupulous individual wanted it to be, the moment we relented to them so they may indiscriminately search our homes in cyberspace without a warrant, the moment we gave the very government social media contributed to putting into power the ability to take us to task for speaking our mind by using an archaic law that even the United Nations finds distasteful, and worst of all, the moment we just looked at them doing all this and said “I don’t care,” we allowed ourselves to be put into Martial Law anew.