Pro-troll move? Senators disappointed over Duterte’s veto of SIM Card Registration Bill

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Saturday, April 16 said the veto by President Duterte on the SIM Card Registration bill allows online trolls to ‘’thrive, spread lies and hate, and fuel discord and division".

Drilon thus “congratulated” troll farm operators, online bullies and fake news spreaders, who hide behind anonymity in social media in ‘’spreading lies and discord’’, as a result of the President’s veto.

Senator Grace Poe, on the other hand, said: ‘’We count on Congress to act in a timely manner in reconsidering the bill for approval in accordance with the legislative process.’’

Poe also said the veto highlights the need for ongoing efforts, both public and private, ‘’to find effective ways to protect our citizens and our democracy".

“Political trolling as we’ve seen these days is a thriving business. This veto is a big win for troll farms,” Drilon added.

“This veto is meant to protect trolls. Is it a parting gift? Magpapatuloy ang industriya ng trolling (The trolling industry will go on),” said Drilon as he expressed extreme disappointment.

President Duterte’s one-time, six-year term ends on June 30.

“To say that I am disappointed by the President’s veto is an understatement. I authored this particular provision of the measure in order to address the anonymity in the internet and the social media that allowed an environment for troll accounts and fake news,” Drilon said.

The former Justice eecretary lamented that the veto is a big blow to the growing fight against trolls and fake news, explaining that as long as the anonymity in the social media exists, political trolling, troll armies and fake news will continue to succeed in sowing discord and division among the Filipino people.

Drilon cited as an example of the works of trolls the attacks against Vice President Leni Robredo's eldest daughter Aika, who is the latest victim of disinformation and harassment by online trolls and troll armies.

“She is only one of the thousands of victims of trolls and fake news. Some of them are children who may bear the scars of bullying and trolling for life. The bill could have helped in preventing trolls and fake news,” he explained.

Drilon said the concerns that the measure could affect individual privacy and free speech cited in the veto message are unfounded.

The Minority leader said that Section 9 of the bill provides for the confidentiality clause which mandates that “any information obtained in the registration process described under this Act cannot be disclosed to any person".

The disclosure may only be done in compliance with any law obligating the PTE or social media provider to disclose such information in accordance with the provisions of Republic Act (RA) No. 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012; in compliance with a court order, legal process, or other government regulatory, or enforceable administrative request for information; in compliance with Section 10 of the bill; or with the written consent of the subscriber, he explained.

“There were enough safeguards. Unfortunately, the veto is nothing but to protect troll operators and troll armies, some of them are in Malacanang,” Drilon said, citing the thousands of contractual employees at the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) suspected of running troll accounts.

The Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the PCOO for hiring too many alleged consultants.

Drilon also disputed claims that the anti-troll provision that he introduced in the proposed SIM Card Registration Act was neither an out of topic provision nor a last-minute insertion.

“It’s not a last-minute insertion. We studied it and introduced it in the Senate plenary as part of our humble contribution in the fight against trolls and fake news. Twenty-two senators voted in favor of the measure on third reading last December. The House of Representatives adopted our version with little modification,” he pointed out.

Drilon explained that the title of the bill clearly set out the objectives of thereof which is to eradicate mobile phone, Internet or electronic communication-aided criminal activities by mandating the registration of SIM cards for electronic devices and social media accounts to.

‘’Each day without the safeguards from the measure makes our people vulnerable to ripoffs that take away their money and cause them anxiety, the onslaught of cybercrimes and fake news that tear away the fabric of our democracy,’’ Poe said.

Poe emphasized that existing Philippine laws and jurisprudence confirm that freedom of expression is not absolute, as in the cases of obscenity, libel or when public safety and order are at stake.

Being a content-neutral regulation, the bill upholds the Supreme Court ruling in Chavez vs. Gonzales (2008) where “only a substantial governmental interest is required for its validity. Because regulations of this type are not designed to suppress any particular message, they are not subject to the strictest form of judicial scrutiny but an intermediate approach.”

Poe stressed that the SIM Card Registration Bill passes the test of constitutionality based on such criteria.