AFP chief wants social media restrictions to be part of anti-terrorism law

Published August 4, 2020, 4:53 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

Recognizing the role of the Internet in the changing landscape of terrorism, Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay, newly installed Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), has proposed the inclusion of regulation of social media in the crafting of the implementing rules and regulation (IRR) of the Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL) of 2020.

Gapay explained that terrorists have already learned how to weaponize social media noting “This is a platform now being used by the terrorists to radicalize, recruit and even plan terrorist acts.” 

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed members of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) have already met last week to start the crafting of the IRR of the ATL, which took effect on July 18.

“The IRR of the Anti-Terrorism Law is being drafted by the DOJ [Department of Justice]. We just had our first ATC meeting last week,” said Lorenzana, who is a member of the ATC.

The Defense Chief did not elaborate on the matters discussed in the meeting.

He said the members will be provided with a draft of the IRR so they can place their inputs, which may include Gapay’s proposal.

One of the most evident scenarios where social media was weaponized by terrorists was during the Marawi City siege in 2017.

The military had said that leaders of the Maute terrorist group and Abu Sayyaf Group, as well as other foreign terrorists, used social media to entice young Moros to join their group and coordinate their attacks, hence, their “successful” take over of the Islamic City.

But it was also through the help of social media that the military managed to track down the whereabouts of the leaders of the terrorist groups during the five-month long siege.

However, there were concerns that Gapay’s suggestion to regulate social media may lead to possible red-tagging of government critics and eventually, violation of human rights.

The passage of ATL was met with strong resistance as critics said several ambiguous provisions, including as to who can be considered as terrorists, could be used to silence dissent.

A group of social media influencers led by “Macoy Dubs,” an online personality, was among those who filed petitions before the Supreme Court to question the constitutionality of the law.

Gapay assured the public though that the inputs they will make will only be used to curb radicalism, especially among the youth.

Aside from social media control, Gapay also wants to enhance the military’s intelligence sharing with its foreign counterparts to eradicate the threat of terrorism in the country.

“This is a global threat that we need to address, that’s why intelligence fusion, intelligence sharing is very vital,” he said.

Further, the AFP Chief said he would also provide inputs on how to regulate materials in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (IED).

“We will capitalize on this very comprehensive Anti-Terror Law,” he vowed.