Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why I'm against the Cybercrime law (and why you should be too if you aren't already)

“There’s nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate. When there’s no information or, much worse, wrong information, it can lead to calamitous decisions and clobber any attempts at vigorous debate. That’s why I produce the news.”

--Will McAvoy, The Newsroom

Aw snap, now I've done it. I just had to write this blog post and now I might go to jail. Yes, jail, who'd have thunk it? It's the law as outlined by the recently passed "Cybercrime" bill, which was signed into law by none other than PNoy Aquino of the falsely pro-Filipino nickname. 

Things may have settled down since last week's furor, but the fight goes on.

According to the Cybercrime law, I can be sent to jail for six to twelve years for saying some harsh words whether it's the truth or an opinion or whatnot. It doesn't matter. This affects me as a writer, a blogger, and a journalist, but my beef with the Cybercrime law is its big sin: it's anti-democracy. 

With the libel clause, this law becomes a clear-cut case of the law becoming a tool for totalitarian control, protecting the powerful at the expense of the weak, and sacrificing our freedoms which are protected by the Constitution. It has no place in a democracy.

Prison time

I actually know people who spent some time behind bars. They're journalists who were locked up during Martial Law, Joann Maglipon and Pete Lacaba. Ms Jo, as we call her, told me her story firsthand, and I still have difficulty imagining what it was like in those times. When she told me her story, I wondered what I would do in the same situation. Would I toe the line and shut up like everyone else?

As Tito Sotto once said, "The price of democracy is eternal vigilance." Jail is a distant theoretical possibility right now. But I definitely won't shut up about this attack on our freedom. The Cybercrime law is unconstitutional and must be repealed. While we're at it, our libel laws need to be rewritten because libel is a civil problem, not a criminal one deserving of jail time. 

Libel schmibel

I'm not a lawyer, but as I understand it, libel is for destructive defamation, not every contrary opinion that comes along. Really now, how can my blog, or any blog for that matter, or a tweet, destroy a senator's reputation? Sotto did it all by himself. And now he wants to shut everyone up.

I used to be a journalist. Not the news reporter sort. The fluffy kind. Just a tech journalist. The kind of journalist who told you what phone to buy, or what camera was right for you, not the kind who told you who to vote for, or which politician shouldn't be trusted. Still, the idea is the same. When my magazine published some bad things about a big brand, and the big brand pulled out all its advertising, threatening our survival, my publisher stood by what we printed because we did it for the consumers, our readers. 

It was decent of my publisher to protect us that way. In our democracy, this protector is the Constitution.

Democracy and Freedom of Speech: BFFs

This is an elementary school topic, but it bears some explaining because defenders of the Cybercrime law, senators included, don't seem to get it. The constitution protects freedom of speech because without it, democracy doesn't work. 

"Netizens" aren't some noisy minority complaining about having their toy taken away from them. "Netizens" are the majority of Filipinos – or they soon will be.  Sure, there are only 29 million Filipinos on Facebook but 100% of Filipinos own a mobile phone. And dear senators, in case you didn't know, you can access the Internet from mobile phones now. Yes, not all of them, not even most phones, but soon, this will be the case. Everyone will be a netizen soon.

Read the quote above again. The media (and netizens are included here) informs the electorate. The electorate (again netizens are included here) debates, then the electorate votes. This is how we get the right guys in office. This is how democracy works.

The Internet and social media give the electorate a voice that is equal to or greater than the traditional media, so keeping expression free is always a step in the right direction. More freedom. More information. More diverse opinions. More debate. More arguments. More disagreements. More shouting matches. It all contributes to a better-informed electorate. Grade school stuff, senators.

This is how democracy doesn't work

That's why when Marcos declared martial law, he also killed freedom of the press. And for the next 20 years or so, Filipinos either thought Marcos was a swell guy or were unable to do anything about it. This is how you kill democracy.

We like to think that we've moved on from those dark times in the day of Marcos. We like to think that Ninoy died for something and that Cory was able to restore democracy. But things haven't changed much. Because with the cybercrime law, the citizenry can be effectively gagged. Democracy is dead in the water. PNoy can flip a switch and websites will go dark. People will start disappearing again.

Wait lang. Are we really a democracy?

I assume much when I say that we are a democracy. Our institutions haven't behaved like a democracy in a while, so maybe we're all wrong to assume that we're a democracy.

Are we a democracy or are we an oligarchy? Do our laws protect the people or, like the Cybercrime law, do they protect the interests of those already in power, like the cyber-bullied senator? Do they protect the interest of large corporations over the little guy? I'm not sure anymore. Does our democracy seek justice for the journalists who died in the Maguindanao massacre or does it protect the alleged culprits, the entrenched Ampatuans?

Are we a democracy or a church state? Are we the kind of country where the Catholic church can stonewall the RH bill for years and prevent the poor from having access to contraceptives whether they like it or not? Are we the kind of democracy where our representatives vote based on what the CBCP tells them to vote instead of what their constituents say? Jose Rizal would not approve of the clergy dictating what the majority can or can't do. He died to prevent abuses by church and state. Like Ninoy, yet another hero who died for nothing.

Are we socialists doling out bread and circus to those who haven't earned it in exchange for votes? Are approval ratings, name recall, and better public relations all our politicians care about? It's no wonder then that they are fearful of what bloggers and meme-makers have to say about them. Maybe the people will start to catch on.

Not to forget, how can we be a democracy when our elections have historically been rigged far too often?

Miles to go before we sleep

I've said what I needed to say. Now it's time for the Supreme Court to decide whether we're a democracy or not. 

The road ahead is long. We can all participate by speaking up and making our voices heard. We can choose to elect new senators (I think it's about time), and new leadership. Elections are coming up. We now know who NOT to vote.

Unlike the Internet, the government and our laws won't change overnight. But we are the people, and we are in the driver's seat. Don't ever forget who's boss.

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