There is enough evidence to suggest that the passing of the Cybercrime Law was railroaded or rushed to avoid further scrutiny by the members of Congress. First, Senator Chiz Escudero quickly admitted “it was a personal oversight that the clause including libel among the crimes punishable under the new law was inserted in the committee report when the Senate voted for its passage”. Now, there are a few more members of Congress who are distancing themselves from the ill-thought out law particularly the provision that includes criminalizing any statement made online that can be construed as libelous.
Some of those who voted for the passing of the law in the senate have spoken about their own disappointment over the inclusion of the libel clause without their knowledge. It was reported that it was Sen. Vicente Sotto III who proposed the inclusion of the libel clause in the Senate’s version of the bill during the period of amendments last January 24. And no senator objected to it. Here’s what Senator Bongbong Marcos had to say about it:
The Cyber Crime Bill has been passed into law and that is it for now. The Committee Report that I signed did not contain the Libel Clause. The records will show that when the Libel Clause was introduced and approved on the same day, I was away on “official business.” This is no time to make excuses nor to blame anyone for what I cannot agree to with regards the Libel Clause. Having said that, I would rather be accused of a lapse in supervision than not do anything to correct it.
For her part, Senator Pia Cayetano was forced to admit on her Twitter account that “…when amendment was made (to the bill), no one really noticed, not media, not netizens and sadly not me…”
San Juan representative, Congressman JV Ejercito also expressed his opposition to the libel clause stating that “while I was once a victim of cyber abuse, I am against curtailing freedom of expression. I am for the amendment of the law.”
Zambales Representative Milagros “Mitos” Magsaysay also revealed that some members of Congress including her were not “informed” of the changes in the bill:
“When we passed the House version wala pa yun”¦ attendees to the bicameral committee never informed us na nagka-changes sa version namin,” Magsaysay said.
This was also what Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara recalled during a recent interview with the media, saying that as one of the authors, he did not remember such provisions during their deliberations.
Assuming it is true that Senator Marcos was “absent” during the session when the libel clause was introduced, there really is no excuse for those who were present but did not even notice its inclusion. It seems like the “bahala na” mentality was at work yet again. One can also be forgiven for thinking that the inclusion of the clause might have been deliberately kept from further scrutiny so as not to delay the passing of the bill. Some people are even thinking that Senator Sotto’s star power had worked to charm President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino into signing the bill into law without thinking of its future implications.
A lot of people have also noticed that there seems to be a pattern of “railroading” or “shortcutting” of events or processes being carried out by our public servants under the present administration. We recall that the filing of impeachment complaints against former Chief Justice Renato Corona was also allegedly railroaded at the start by the House of Representatives and then rushed towards its end by the Senate. The reason, it seems, is an alleged need to comply with orders from the Chief Executive who could not wait to get rid of Corona from the post of Chief Justice. At that time, some members of the media who are said to be allied with the incumbent President “BS” Aquino III were helping out publish unfounded allegations or libelous statements against Corona just to rile up the public.
These senators are now rushing to air their pledges to seek the filing of amendments to the cybercrime law specifically to amend the provision on libel as soon as possible. Ironically, the author of the bill, Senator Edgardo Angara is also one of those who is now promising to amend it. He says that he has “reservations about the bill’s provision that imposes higher penalties for crimes under the Revised Penal Code if they are committed online.” He will also propose to give the Department Of Justice the authority to block computer data or Internet sites only upon issuance of a court order. He also promises to “import the principles of a search warrant and arrest” into the bill.
The amount of time, energy and resources our lawmakers are wasting on problems they themselves created is truly incredible. While the Philippines is plagued with so many problems, public officials thought protecting their egos is more important than anything else. Even various media and human rights organizations have weighed in on the uproar:
Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams, in a statement, said the new law “needs to be repealed or replaced” because it “violates Filipinos’ rights to free expression” and runs counter to the government’s “obligations under international law.”
The International Federation of Journalists, on the other hand, joined its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, in criticizing the law.
“The IFJ is greatly concerned that the inclusion of online content in the Act could be used to curtail freedom of expression online,” said the IFJ Asia Pacific. “We are further concerned that the government of the Philippines continues to delay the passing of the FOI (Freedom of Information) bill, which clearly stands against their stated commitment to press freedom.”
Earlier, the NUJP called the enactment of the anti-cybercrime law “sneaky and betrays this [the Aquino] administration’s commitment to transparency and freedom of expression.”
Not surprisingly, Malacañang has now shifted to damage control by issuing a guarantee that “no government entity has moved to deprive anyone of access to the Internet or to suppress civil liberties as exercised online.” Presidential spokesman, Edwin Lacierda is now appealing for people to calm down and participate in a dialogue to craft the Implementing Rules and Regulations. Yeah, right. That is very reactive of him. If only the lawmakers held a dialogue with the people before passing the law to begin with, they could have avoided the furor railroading the law has caused.
Obviously, Filipinos have come to love the freedom they enjoy criticizing their government. There’s just no way onion-skinned lawmakers can take that away without the people putting up a fight. Criticizing is still a novelty that social media has introduced to a society not yet mature enough to handle the power they posses over their public servants. Once Filipinos realize that they can actually change the behavior of their public servants through actively participating in the discussions in the running of the country, that’s when Filipinos can truly hope for a better future.
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