Freedom of speech in the Philippines is under attack. The Cybercrime Act recently signed into law is a disastrous piece of legislation, the consequences of which could only be to the detriment of your rights.
Those whose careers are most vulnerable to criticism through free exchange of information and ideas, have criminalized libel online in bold defiance of the Philippine Bill of Rights. As well the Cybercrime Law grants sweeping powers to law enforcement to monitor the online activity of Filipinos and shut down websites, all without due process.
What does this have to do with a food blog?
Well, for starters, I could no longer speak critically about anything, publicly or even privately by email without fear of ruinous legal consequences. Should I write a post criticizing a restaurant or other business (which I have been known to do), I could be subject to criminal charges. The definition of a “libelous statement” is murky at best, so the advantage would clearly be to those with the best lawyers, in other words most money. Furthermore my website is a .ph and could be shut down or blocked without any due process.
Am I also responsible for censoring the comments left on my website? Am I liable for these comments?
From now on all restaurant reports will be sparkling. I love everything! Why? Because I have no intention of being on Locked Up Abroad, that’s why.
In the States, like many other countries, there are restaurant critics, there’s Yelp.com and countless other ways that professional and amateur critics can bash and talk irrational shit about a restaurant. Sometimes they even have good things to say. The advantage to you as a diner is that you are empowered with an abundance of information to make a choice where you want to eat. You may use this information but must take all of the reviews with a grain of salt. Nothing like this exists in the Philippines yet, and it never will with criminalized libel on the books. The liability to the reviewer is just too great.
What does this have to do with you?
Ok, so most of you maybe don’t operate websites and let’s say you only use the internet for Facebook and sharing pictures of cats. Well you’re not off the hook either. Think twice before you click ‘Like’ and consider every possible ramification and distortion of every online comment you make.
Let’s say I write a post about a terrible restaurant experience. You read my post, maybe Tweet it or Like it, or make a witty comment below, such as “LOL.” Suddenly when the lawyers come for me they will also note your endorsement of my libelous statement, or indeed, “laughing out loud” about it. Now you’re on the hook too. ROFL or LMAO may be tantamount to treason. We don’t know, because in their clumsiness, the Senate has left this to the courts to figure out and ruin people’s lives and livelihoods until they do. Every comment in every social media platform is public. Even your emails are now subject to inspection by the NBI and are considered public if viewed by more than one person.
The insidious thing about libel is that it could be a statement that’s perfectly true or an opinion that’s perfectly well grounded. In further absurdity the truth of the statement is not considered a defense. Libel was a tool in Mike Arroyo’s belt when he filed over 40 lawsuits against Filipino journalists to dissuade criticism. Now imagine each of these further criminalized with a 6-12 year prison term as is now the case for online libel. This law will only further empower those seeking to stifle critics, those victims of “cyber-bullying.”
The Philippines is uniquely poised with strong economic growth in recent years to become a formidable economic force in Southeast Asia. But as Philippines Director Neeraj Jain of Asian Development Bank said, “issues like poor infrastructure and weak governance must be tackled if the country’s economic gains are to benefit all.” What will motivate government officials to tackle these problems without public pressure and criticism?
What do we do now?
This law has been decried by the UN Human Rights Committee and Human Rights Watch because of the draconian penalties it imposes and the consequences it will likely bring for freedom of speech. The opposition is gaining ground so make lots of noise until this law is drastically modified or repealed.
Just a gentle reminder:
Section 3. (1) The privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise as prescribed by law.
Section 4. No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.