Martial Law in the digital age?

Sep. 30, 2012

Netizens have been up in arms, calling the law a new form of dictatorship in this digital age.  They dubbed it, “electronic Martial Law.”  

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — “Narinig nyo?  Narinig nyo?  Ibaba na raw ang e-martial law?  Eh ano?  Eh ano?  Magpo-post pa rin kami!”

These were posted in one of the info-graphics in the social networking site Facebook by the group Pixel Offensive which criticized the Aquino administration’s recently approved Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Netizens have been up in arms, calling the law a new form of dictatorship in this digital age.  They dubbed it, “electronic Martial Law.”

Forty years after the Martial Law Declaration by the late Ferdinand Marcos, the people are again fighting for freedom on a different field, according to a Facebook group, 1M Filipino Netizens against the Cybercrime Law.

“Fight for the freedom of internet, stand up against politicians who seek to use the law as a shield against criticism,” the group said.

Graphics calling for the junking of the Cybercrime Law were produced with texts: “It’s not right to remain silent, express your right to freedom of expression,” “We lack schools and hospitals and now government will spend P50M/year just to shut up,” “Cybercrime Law is the rich and powerful’s dislike button,” and “Bird tweets against crooked politicians, gets 12 years in prison,” among others.

Vicente “Tito” Sotto III was the recent object of criticism for allegedly plagiarizing a blogger’s article he used for his privilege speech against the Reproductive Health Bill.  The senator has denied the accusation.

Tito Sotto was again in the hot seat after inserting the libel provision in the controversial cybercrime law.  In contrast, his late father, a known journalist, enacted the Sotto Law which protected journalists from revealing their news sources.

The Information Technology group Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU) said that Sections 4 a and b of the Act subjects technical specifications into various interpretation, given that not all hackers are bad and not all computer users are aware of these.

“It opened new mechanisms for misinterpretations (intentional or not) by State authorities wherein innocent computer users and hackers can be tagged to crimes and punished without due process,” said Rick Bahague of CPU.

“Many people have been killed, disappeared, arrested and tortured under the Noynoy Aquino government because they speak out the truth, they criticize government policies that are detrimental to the people.  Now, the government has brought its battle against the people on the cyberspace,” Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan-National, said.

New-York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also slammed the new Philippine law.  It said, the law “drastically increases punishments for criminal libel and gives authorities excessive and unchecked powers to shut down websites and monitor online information” and that the “law’s criminal penalties for online libel and other restrictions are a serious threat to free expression in the Philippines.”

Brad Adams, HRW’s director for Asia, said “anybody using popular social networks or who publishes online is now at risk of a long prison term should a reader, including government officials, bring a libel charge,” adding that “allegedly libelous speech, online or offline, should be handled as a private civil matter, not a crime.”

HRW noted the case of Davao journalist Alex Adonis who was imprisoned for two years because of a libel case. It believes that the case of Adonis, in the eye of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, violated article 19 on the right to freedom of expression and opinion of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the country is a signatory.

HRW said that the new law has a provision that grants new powers to the Department of Justice, which even without a warrant can order the shutdown of any website allegedly violating a law.  It also authorizes police to collect computer data in real time without a court order or warrant.

“It worries us that a medium where we can express the human rights situation in the country would be subjected to these restrictions.  Even without the cybercrime law, facts and news on extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances, bombings of communities that exist under the Aquino administration are most often marginalized.  What, with the cybercrime law?” Karapatan’s Palabay said.

Cyber “hacktivists” Anonymous Philippines have made their opposition to the new law by hacking and defacing government websites like the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines.

In a message posted in its website, the group said, “New technologies give us new opportunities to connect with a lot of people not only in this country but all over the world.  They can also provide us with a medium through which our political, public and even private views can have an immediate and direct impact on individuals, communities and even countries.”

International hacktivist Anonymous have also called for #OpBigBrother, a simultaneous hacking and actual worldwide protests activity against the censorship and surveillance on October 20.  (John Rizle L. Saligumba/

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