‘AFP plan to regulate social media thru anti-terror law IRR illegal, unconstitutional’ — Drilon

Published August 4, 2020, 4:06 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday rejected the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) plan to include provisions to regulate social media in the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, saying the act is “illegal and unconstitutional.”

Senator Franklin Drilon
(Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Drilon said the suggestion of AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay will “go beyond the real intent of the law and, therefore, it is illegal and unconstitutional.”

Gapay, who officially assumed his post last Monday, said he would propose provisions in the IRR of the new anti-terrorism law that will regulate the usage of social media as it is the platform being used by the terrorists to radicalize and even plan terrorist acts.

“Freedom of speech is a sacred and inviolable right of every human being. The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech,” Drilon said in a statement.

Drilon stressed that the IRR cannot be contrary to the text of the law itself, saying that Supreme Court cases have held that administrative or executive acts are invalid if they contravene the laws or the Constitution.

“No law can be amended by a mere administrative rule issued for its implementation,” Drilon emphasized. 

“There is nothing in the law which would allow enforcers to regulate or control social media. A proper governmental purpose may not be achieved by means that unnecessarily sweep its subject broadly, thereby, invading the area of protected freedoms,” the minority leader explained.

Drilon stressed an act of government that chills expression is subject to nullification or injunction from the courts, as it violates Section 3, Article III of the Constitution.

“The threat of restraint, as opposed to actual restraint itself, may deter the exercise of the right to free expression almost as potently as the actual application of sanctions,” the former justice secretary said.

The senator pointed out YouTube videos and sound bites posted by terrorist groups communicating to a wider audience are clearly identifiable and may be taken down, if Gapay’s intention is to clamp down on terrorist propaganda posted on social media.

Drilon said Gapay should familiarize himself with Section 16 of the Anti-Terror Law, which requires a law enforcement agency or military personnel to file an application with the Court of Appeals (CA) before conducting surveillance activities.

The said provision, he said, applies to private communications, data, information, messages between members of judicially outlawed terrorist organizations, members of a designated person, or a person charged with or suspected of committing terrorism.

Drilon, at the same time, reiterated that he voted in favor of the controversial measure that is now pending for review by the Supreme Court, saying he has no ulterior motive but to balance the need to protect the Bill of Rights and address the security of the state.

“Social media is an effective platform for our people to voice out their criticisms against the government,” the veteran lawmaker said.

“If we insist on implementing the law this way, which is clearly contrary to legislative intent, then we justify the fears aired by the people against the passage of the law. Let us not be so imprudent as to prove to the people that they are right in their distrust of the law’s implementers,” Drilon said.