By Tonyo Cruz
The House of Representatives is quietly considering House Bills 7141 and 5507 amending the country’s anti-terrorist law and the matters being discussed should concern everyone.
In its position paper submitted to the House, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines makes important points that should alarm you and me especially at this time of rising tyranny.
“The bills… include provisions that may be later against the people’s right to freedom of expression and the freedom of the press. If passed and implemented, this will make the practice of journalism in this country impossible and extremely dangerous,” said the NUJP.
What are these amendments that NUJP views would imperil the practice of journalism? And, if I may add, what are these amendments that could also endanger the free and open discussion of public issues in social media be it by bloggers, influencers, thought-leaders and even the regular social media user?
- Inclusion of cyberlibel as a predicate crime on terrorism.
This is already a no-deal for the NUJP and most journalists as they have long asked Congress to decriminalize libel as what many democratic countries have done. The filing of criminal cases of libel against journalists has in fact been used to harass journalists, and to imprison them.
Adding cyberlibel — libel committed online made punishable under the Cybercrime Law with a penalty of one degree higher than libel — would make matters worse for journalists and the general public in the time of greater connectivity and interaction, thanks to the internet.
And as NUJP notes: “Almost all media outfits nowadays have online platforms. The inclusion of the Cyber crime Law as a predicate crime to the crime of terrorism would endanger journalists the most. We fear critical reports and opinion may already be called terroristic acts. Why pass bills that may constrict the exercise of free journalism in this country when, in fact and in practice, it is increasingly being subverted already? May we remind that according to our Constitution, ‘No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of the press.’”
- Inciting to terrorism: “Any person who incites another person by any means to commit terrorism whether or not directly advocating the commission of any of such act… shall be punished with the penalty of life imprisonment.”
NUJP asks Congress: “Who determines incitement? Would a news article explaining the roots of “terrorism” or rebellion, which terms the government often interchanges freely, qualify as incitement? Past governments certainly viewed it this way.”
Again let us add: Would citizens who raise and discuss similar questions on Facebook, Twitter and blogs for instance be held liable under this provision? Would citizens who publicize and condemn terrorist or terroristic acts of state security forces and public officials prosecuted under such an amendment?
- Glorification of terrorism: “Any person who, not being a conspirator, accomplice or accessory under Sections 5, 6 and 7 of this act, shall by any means make a statement or act, through any medium, which tends to directly or indirectly encourage, justify, honor or otherwise induce the commission of terrorist acts by proscribed or designated individuals or organizations, or shall by any means honor glorify proscribed or designated individuals or organizations, shall suffer the penalty of ten (10) years of imprisonment.”
Again, the NUJP argues: “Who determines glorification and terrorism? Might not this provision be used by state forces to charge and harass members of the press who would write something about so-called terrorism, misconstruing such as glorification?”
- “Any person who shall knowingly become a member or manifest his/her intention to become a member of any Philippine Court-proscribed or United Nations Security Council-designated terrorist organization shall suffer the penalty of life imprisonment.”
The NUJP sounds the alarm: “The government, particularly state security forces, have time and again tagged legal organizations, including the NUJP, as ‘fronts’ or even ‘enemies of the state.’ If these agencies have been so cavalier in endangering the lives and reputation of legitimate media organizations in the past, these bills would further embolden them to violate our rights.”
May I add: History is replete with many examples of governors-general, presidents and chiefs of both the police and the military arbitrarily tagging revolutionaries, activists, dissidents, oppositionists and critics with various negative labels. This has also been true now in online spaces where voices critical of the Duterte regime are labeled negatively as “komonesta,” “Dilawan,” “protektor ng mga adik” and others.
- An amendment allowing authorities to “track down, tap, listen to, intercept, and record communications, messages, conversations, discussions, or spoken or written words [of any person suspected of the crime of terrorism or the crime of conspiracy to commit terrorism]” based only on mere “suspicion” by authorities or because “there is no other effective means readily available for acquiring such evidence.”
Listen to NUJP: “This could expose practically anyone to invasion of privacy.”
And yet again, if I may add, in a very arbitrary manner that likewise violates constitutional guarantees to due process and to equal protection, and with the suspicious removal of specific references to Court of Appeals and the Regional Trial Courts which ought to hold the power to issue such warrants based only on evidence.
- Extending the period of detention without warrant and without charges to 30 days.
I’m sure we would all agree with the NUJP: “Thirty days is too long and open to so many potential abuses of basic rights” while under detention.
Let’s join NUJP and other organizations monitoring and questioning the amendments.