There is a rumor going around that “sharing content, or even just clicking the ‘Like’ button on Facebook, may be grounds for libel under the recently enacted Cybercrime Prevention Act”. That is the most ridiculous interpretation of the law I have ever heard. What’s even more disturbing is the fact that it was a Senator, Teofisto Guingona III, who made the suggestion. He seems to think that Netizens should now think twice about even clicking the “like” button lest they be the subject of a libel suit.
“The law is very broad,” Guingona, who opposes the new law, said.
“If you click like, you can be sued, and if you share, and continuously re-share information, you can also be sued. Saka sino ang liable? Hindi klaro eh. ”˜Yung original na nag-post? ”˜Yung nag-share? ”˜Yung nag-tweet? Kahit nga ikaw, mag-post ka ng simpleng ”˜hehehe’ di ba? Ibig sabihin nu’n, sangayon ka (And who is liable? It isn’t clear. The one who made the original post? The ones who share? The ones who tweet. Even you, if you post a simple, ”˜hehehe,’ right? Does that mean you agree)? Are you liable? So, napakalawak eh.”
I don’t know how he came up with such a notion but perhaps Senator Guingona III simply wants to exaggerate his point about the vagueness of the Cybercrime law just to attract attention. For someone who strongly opposes the newly minted Cybercrime law, Senator Guingona is also scaring people and adding to “the chilling effect” on the speech of others. If he really wanted people to rally behind him in protesting against the new law, he is doing a bad job at convincing people to speak up. He is actually adding to the confusion created by people who are making a lot of white noise about the said law.
Guingona has filed a petition to the Supreme Court to declare void “questionable” provisions of the law that he says, “infringe on freedom of speech and expression”. But he should not use scaremongering tactics just to drive a point. All he needs to do is stick to facts. If the Cybercrime law violates individual rights, he just needs to focus on that. There’s no need to highlight something that is not there.
Scaring people is not helping the situation because ordinary Filipinos who do not know how to interpret the law will automatically believe what people like Guingona say in news conferences. Ordinary folks will not even bother to analyze for example that his statement is not a fact but simply his own interpretation.
Unfortunately, Guingona’s statement is already making the rounds on social networking sites. People are passing it around as if the law actually state that “sharing content, or even just clicking the “like” button” could be grounds for libel”. Frankly, Senator Guingona’s statement is equivalent to old wives’ tales such as going permanently cross-eyed when the wind blows on your face while you are mimicking a cross-eyed person. Yes, similar to old-wives tales, irrational interpretations or explanations get passed around from one person to the next or worse, from generation to generation obviously because people believe it without analyzing if the statement is true or not. The provision on libel does not even mention Facebook or the like button:
4) Libel — The unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other means which may be devised in the future.
Part of the confusion could be that most Filipinos do not really understand what libel means or what is considered libelous. Criticizing public servants is certainly not libelous but writing false information about them is. The problem is, in a society where critical thinking is discouraged, Filipinos do not even bother to try and understand things on their own.
In the Philippines, the majority quickly shuns anyone who they perceive is thinking outside of the square. That is part of the reason why most would rather not speak up lest they stand out from the crowd. Sadly, that mentality coupled now with the fear of being imprisoned for libel is a guarantee that Filipinos will not be discussing issues that plague the country. If Filipinos were scared of criticizing their public officials then, they must be terrified now. This could be what President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino must have been counting on all along when he signed the bill into law. The President could be successful in keeping the status quo, indeed.
Surprisingly, while some of President BS Aquino’s vocal supporters condemn the Cybercrime law, they can’t seem to put the blame on him even though he was the one who signed it. They are saying that the President may have been “ill-advised” when he agreed to sign it into a law. It seems to me that even in the face of mounting evidence showing the President’s violation of individual rights, his supporters are not willing to admit that they have made a mistake in putting him in power. They cannot accept that President BS Aquino has to take accountability for his actions whether or not he got “ill-advise” from his people.
Speaking of mistakes, another Senator did not seem to use his head when he voted for the passing of the Cybercrime law in Congress. Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero has reportedly admitted that “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”. One has to ask, how in the world could something like an entire section of a law he voted for slip under his radar? It’s really amazing how the country’s public servants make a mockery out of the Constitution. It’s like they don’t even deliberate on these things before voting.
Senator Escudero realized too late the irony in what he did…
He said the provision contradicts his position as a principal author of Senate Bill 2162, which seeks to decriminalize libel on the grounds that “a strong media could give great service to the Filipino people in providing an effective mechanism of complete and fearless transparency over the excesses of government in the exercise of its powers and prerogatives.”
One just has to ask again, what the heck happened there?!? How could Senator Escudero not notice that the provision on libel in the new law contradicts his own bill? Could it be that the author of the Cybercrime bill pulled a fast one on the rest of the members of congress? It is becoming apparent that Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III introduced the provision on libel without the knowledge of the other Senators. In another interview, Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, someone who has been ridiculed by Netizens for allegedly plagiarizing a blogger’s work, admitted to introducing the provision to include all crimes under the Revised Penal Code, including libel, in the new law.
A lot of people are saying that it was Senator Sotto’s ultimate revenge for what he thought was “bullying” by the Netizens. Nevertheless, how could Senators like Escudero allow what looks like a personal vendetta pass into a law? Now Senator Escudero is working on having the libel provision repealed. These senators seem to love wasting people’s time and money. They would pass bad laws and then file a petition to reverse it.
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