Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Philippines: Forward or Backward?

J. M. Roberts - the Oxford historian and author of many books, one of which I am reading at the moment- stated in his book History of the World : Third Edition that civilizations don't progress and develop at the same time and same pace. The pace or rate of the development of a particular civilization depends on a wide-ranging factors, which I will not elaborate upon because this blog post isn't about that. 

Republic Act No. 10175 or The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was passed in the Senate and House of Representatives last June 5 and 4 this year and was signed into law by the President -Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III-last September 12.The current president was elected last 2010, among his many promises was more transparency in government and the protection of human rights.

For many years now, there has been a strong lobby for libel to be decriminalize in the Philippines, as it poses a huge threat to the natural right of a journalist to speak, and on more general level, the constitutionally and internationally recognized right -via the Philippines 1987 Constitution and its conscious decision to sign and ratify The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - to not hinder the freedom of speech, expression, and press.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, are just two among many international non-governmental organizations that has repeatedly remarked the need for the Philippines to decriminalize libel. In most democratic countries, when a person commits libel, he/she is only compelled to pay a fine, as it is only a civil offense, in the Philippines however, one has to serve time in prison.

In October 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s (UNHRC) declared that the criminal sanction for libel in the Philippines is “excessive” violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in which the Philippines is a signatory.

To be fair to the new unconstitutional law- according to Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a constitutional and international law expert, ICC Judge , and one of few senators who voted against the law, it violates the right to privacy, and the rule of law - and controversial law I am sure it's intentions was good -to protect the public from cyber crimes, like fraud, etc., it's just that the law is so badly written, using vague words and doesn't define clearly what constitutes what, that its vulnerable to abuse by proper authorities. In the Philippines, its an accepted fact that some police officers are corrupt and abusive. Another thing is the lack of safeguards to protect it from abuse.

For sure you're wondering why I am talking about libel in the context of this law, its because this law goes a step forward -a step in which most countries have not clearly embarked on. This new law subjects the supposed free space of internet to libel laws, and by amending the penalties, further making the penalties of libel harsher. Another source of criticism, and a definite intrusion on private activities of a person, this law criminalizes cyber sex. It doesn't matter if its done by two consenting adults. 

And of course the violation of Rule of Law, according to the new law, without court intervention, the authorities can apprehend you just by for example noticing that your post seems to be in violation of a certain clause already. Finally, the authorities are authorized to collect data. Yes, you heard it right. In the era of Liberal - Democratic - Industrialized countries taking action against possible abuses due to powerful companies alleged privacy collection violations and selling it to advertiser's, the government of this country actually want's to invade your privacy.

I don't know what went through the head of the president to not carefully examine first the law which he signed, the law that has been dubbed by the media and public as Cyber-Martial Law and ironically passed and implemented on the 40th year anniversary of Marital Law - that ended 1981. Didn't the president thought of what this would do to his image, especially him, he prides himself as being a champion of democracy while milking the supposed accomplishments of his ambitious parents. 

Today, amid widespread publicity of public discontent for the new law, the Supreme Court of the Philippines issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) for the new law. We may never know the intention of the newly-appointed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to hold a sudden en banc session with fellow justices, but I am sure people are relieved to know that in this dysfunctional country, people can still function with the right amount of pressure. Who knows? Aquino-appointed Chief Justice Sereno may have just wanted to show of to the public, via judicial review, her possible non-existent judicial independence. Its hard not to think of it as that way, because why did it take the Chief Justice more than three weeks to come up with a response, only after great discontent shown by the people via media and only after 15 petitions from a variety of associations, alliances, bloggers, lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists. But, in this case, I would like to give the Chief Justice the benefit of the doubt, since it is too early to already judge her as a puppet of the president. 

Before the Philippines actively and continually pursued its claims and supposed sovereignty over the possibly resource-rich tiny collection of islets in the South China Sea, I think the current president should reflect first upon himself the monumental challenges he face in the country, challenges I need not to state as it is very obvious already, before picking a fight with an economic giant China.


Ever since the diplomatic and military row erupted between the Philippines and China, there has been endless commentaries and pleas everywhere from the editorials in newspapers, to academics (geo-politics experts and economists), and even in the Senate for the Philippines to be very cautious with its approach with China regarding this sensitive issue to avoid upsetting the world's second largest economy. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, stated that the proper way to resolve the issue is to bring the case to the International Court of Justice, and her final advice resonates with the advice of the majority of the experts, and that is as much as possible, to not let this dispute damage the deep economic ties of the two countries. The Philippines needs China more than China needs the Philippines.


Perhaps, instead of the current administration focusing its attention with this spat with China. It should for now, with all its internal grave problems which requires great attention like education, health-care, widespread corruption etc., should just mind its own business and avoid meddling in international disputes since evidently how can a country broken internally be trusted with an area that requires immense responsibility to maintain, if ever the country does gain control of the, whether partial or full, area . The amount of money that has been used for the military re-invigoration and money that will be spent in the future alone should just be directed to the education budget of this country. So that the quality of education in this country will be improved.

As you can see above, I took a screenshot of the rank of the Philippines in the Failed State Index, What I want to highlight in this blog post is Filipino or Non-Filipino, my readers from here or abroad, is the fact that this country needs to work on its own internal problems first before trying to get into disputes with some ASEAN countries and China, because if you don't have internal stability how can you expect to handle a further burden if in case this country win in its dispute. War and nationalistic fervor is and will never be the answer to the deep socio-economic, political, and cultural problems plaguing this country. This new backward law only complements the already existing backwardness of other policies that continues to exist today. 


That's all for now, please feel free, as you're highly encouraged to, to leave your comments, suggestions, and/or criticisms.  

Love you all!!!

-Paul Ken-

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