Tag Archive | Philippine politics

The Cybercrime Law, RH Bill, and a Call to Vigilance

Whew. What a crazy couple of months it’s been here in the Philippines. While the country’s still in the heat of the Reproductive Health Bill battle, a new law was passed that made both pro- and anti-RH advocates pause in their tracks, gape at each other, and utter a collective, disbelieving “What?!” Last month, Pres. Aquino signed the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 into law, an act ostensibly meant to prevent abuse of technology but managed instead to threaten personal privacy, the right to due process, freedom of expression, and other civil liberties. It went into effect on Oct. 3, inciting an uproar of protest and outrage heard around the world.

I honestly think that part of the problem here is that many of our legislators simply don’t understand the massive, unique, and ever-changing culture of the Internet. Heck, the senate president doesn’t even know what a blog is. When you don’t understand something, it’s easy to either dismiss it, or demonize it. Thus we have politicians trying to tell us not to make such a big deal out of the loss of online freedom, while others are standing firm behind the Cybercrime Law in the belief that it will shield us from the evils they imagine are lurking in every website. This technological naïveté doesn’t surprise me, and in the ordinary course of events, I don’t really care. I don’t expect every politician to have a Twitter account, or to show up for a Reddit AMA. However, when they’re crafting a law that deals specifically with this technology, then I do expect them to educate themselves. How can anyone regulate what they can barely define? Do your freaking homework, ladies and gentlemen. Is that too much to ask?

On the other hand, there are also those politicians who do understand the power and scope of the Internet, and fear it. They know only too well that cyberspace is a venue for real, organic, and unrestrained political discourse that both reflects and influences the offline world. They know that the Internet is fostering a citizenry that questions, investigates, and debates everything, and will not hesitate to expose lies and cover-ups of any kind. You can pay off or intimidate media executives to manipulate the news in your favor, but you can’t silence the hundreds of online writers analyzing events independently. You can hire a staff to plagiarize bloggers for your speeches, but you can’t bribe every netizen who finds out. On the Internet, every voice has a megaphone and it only takes a few clicks to verify the facts, which is good news for democracy but bad news for those who are threatened by the truth. These are the people who will fight tooth-and-nail to preserve the Cybercrime Law as it is, and with the ignorance of their colleagues and the carelessness of others, they just might succeed.

But for now we have a reprieve. The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on implementing the law yesterday, which wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place if it hadn’t been carelessly rushed through the legislative process. And no one can deny that the process has been careless, inexcusably so. When Filipinos reacted in shock and dismay at some of the blazing red flags, they found out that they weren’t the only ones surprised. Even some of the legislators themselves were not fully aware of what they had created. Edgardo Angara, who authored the bill, seems baffled by some of its provisions, while Chiz Escudero and several other senators basically said, “Oops. We didn’t notice how bad it was when we voted for it.” (The irony increases when we recall that Angara and Escudero, among others, have actually filed bills decriminalizing libel, and now they’ve just approved a law punishing it for up to 12 years in jail.) Tito Sotto, who sneaked in the much-hated libel provision at the last minute, admitted that he wasn’t aware that online libel was already addressed in the constitution. Meanwhile, Senate President Enrile blamed Miriam Defensor-Santiago for not catching the flaws of the bill despite her Constitutional expertise, apparently because in an institution composed entirely of lawmakers, she was the only one they counted on to know the law. I truly believe that we have reached the pinnacle of government incompetence, ladies and gentlemen. At least, I dearly hope so, because I’m praying to God that it won’t get any worse.

Let me just state for the record that I am not against fair and sensible policies promoting responsible use of technology. The Internet is a double-edged sword, and we must learn to wield it wisely. But this defective bill, with its sloppy, ambiguous language and alarming provisions that violate civil liberties, should never have reached the president’s desk unrefined, and he should never have approved it. The fact is that modern communications technology is a new legal frontier which poses  unique questions and is constantly evolving, so it deserves careful, adaptive legislation, not a haphazard law produced by distracted, uninformed politicians.

In contrast, the Reproductive Health bill, despite being supported by mountains of meticulous research as well as overwhelming public approval, is still struggling to be approved after almost 15 years. Of course, the biggest difference is that the influential Catholic Church has no problem with the Cybercrime Law, while it is pulling out all the stops against the RH Bill, even to the point of threatening to campaign against its supporters, separation of church and state be damned. Now that the long, excruciatingly drawn out debates are finally over, they’ve resorted to having senators and congressmen  drag their feet through the amendment process, hoping to delay it indefinitely. Yet when they are called out on these dilatory tactics, the same lawmakers who couldn’t be bothered to plug the gaping holes in the Cybercrime Law respond by blinking big, innocent eyes at us and saying that they’re just being extra careful, really, and besides, there’s no need to rush. Never mind that the RH Bill is urgently needed by millions of women and  children, for whom this issue is a matter of survival. Never mind them, our politicians need to make sure that they don’t offend the Catholic bishops first.

With  these two controversial measures, the RH Bill and the Cybercrime Law, dominating the political landscape these days, the upside for us voters is that we can observe which ones of our public servants are worthy of the name. These politicians are slowly catching up to the fact that they are under a closer watch than ever, and that Filipinos are becoming more responsive and harder to fool. I urge my kababayans to keep their eyes on these issues and practice constant vigilance. Never underestimate what an ordinary person with a conscience and a willingness to get involved can accomplish. As for politicians, you should know that we’re learning from our mistakes. We expect performance, not personality, and we will remember those who fail to live up to their promises. Our current struggle to get the good governance we deserve is a rude awakening, but it’s an awakening nonetheless.

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The Filipino as Frodo (or why you shouldn’t shut up about Sotto)

This past month, I watched in disbelief as the most important political debate of my generation devolved into a circus starring Senator Tito Sotto III as the clown. While proponents of the Reproductive Health Bill* struggled to move the deliberations forward, Tito Sen declared himself champion of the opposing camp and planted his feet firmly in the way.

Fair enough. But then he opened his mouth during his first turno en contra speech, and it all fell apart. The nation tuned in, expecting well-reasoned arguments, only to hear plagiarized ideas, outdated research, and manufactured drama. It all went downhill from there (here’s a timeline and another one if you just woke up from a coma and missed it), with the last turno en kopya disaster turning out to have a conclusion directly translated from a Robert F. Kennedy speech.

In the public smackdown that followed, I noticed something rather unusual. The Senate was silent. The people were in uproar, but there was no backlash from the other members of the institution that Sotto’s antics were debasing in front of the entire world. Juan Ponce Enrile, whose legacy as senate president is at stake, practically gave Sotto a hug for being so misunderstood. Even the volatile Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who is as much an academic as she is a public servant, was uncharacteristically tolerant. Really, senators? You don’t care about the blatant lying and stealing within your ranks at all?

You know what this reminds me of? The fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings**. Remember how Frodo had to take the One Ring to Mordor when the great powers of Middle Earth refused to even touch it? They feared the temptation of the ring, so it fell to a simple little hobbit to vanquish the darkest evil in the land. “Even the smallest person,” the Elf-queen Galadriel told him, “can change the course of the future.”

Now I don’t know if our leaders’ failure to denounce Sotto’s lack of integrity can be compared to the noble rejection of the ring’s power, but Rappler’s Carla Montemayor offered some conjectures. No matter what the reason, their hands-off response to Sotto’s shenanigans has allowed his corruption free rein in the Senate. And now it falls to ordinary Filipinos and whatever tools we can muster to call him out. It’s up to us.

So we  write, and write, and write. We pour out our indignation, our anger at being treated like simpletons by a senator who owes his power to us.

We combat the misinformation, manipulations, and outright lies that Sotto and his ilk spout on a regular basis. Refusing to be fooled, we link to reputable studies, point out logical fallacies, and hover over our keyboards ready to google fu the heck out of the hype.

We rally behind two of us, writer Miguel Syjuco and teacher Leloy Claudio, who challenged one of the highest officials in the land to a debate about his so-called evidence against the bill. (Sotto refused them, of course, because God forbid he should ever exert actual intellectual effort.)

We fire off tweets and memes and Facebook posts, today’s equivalent of placards and people power chants. We laugh and mock and rage at Sotto, but underneath it all, we just want an apology. We just want to believe that there’s decency and integrity in our sworn leaders. (SPOILER ALERT: Not gonna happen, guys.)

We start petitions to penalize or oust Sotto which, let’s be realistic, would probably only be ignored by old school politicians who wouldn’t comprehend that behind these digital signatures are flesh-and-blood Filipinos desperate for change. But we sign them anyway, because we want our names to be included in the lists of those who care enough to try.

In the end, that’s the real reason we  even have a fighting chance. Not because we have political clout, religious influence, or crowds of reporters hanging on to our every word.  Our power rests on the simple fact that we give a damn. Apathy is so much easier. After all, haven’t we learned after decades of corruption that cheating is inevitable? Yet we refuse to accept that. We refuse to just shrug it off. And it’s making a difference.

Every time we make the decision to care, we claim our place as agents of change. We become the Ako ang Simula generation, defined not by age but by the refusal to entrust our future on the whims of a handful of men who have their own selfish agendas. We practice democracy as it’s meant to be. It may not change the world now, but it’s certainly changing us by making us think about what we can and should do for our country.

We may still lose this battle, mind you. Sotto, after all, survived the exposure of his link to a drug lord as he pretended to spearhead the fight against drugs. But the fact that we are still fighting means something. Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who knows how it feels to be helpless in the face of evil, says, “There may be times when we are powerless to fight injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

If we do as he says, if we keep protesting with our words, actions, and votes, we may yet prove Galadriel right. Ordinary Filipinos, the ones you can find not in seats of power but in internet cafes, classrooms, or street corner tambayans, may yet change the course of our country’s future. I for one am willing to try.

NOTES:

*For the record, I am pro-RH bill. I believe it is pro-poor, pro-life, and pro-development. However, even if I were on the other side of the fence, I still wouldn’t want someone who has earned the nickname The National Embarrassment speaking for me.

**In fairness, it doesn’t take much to get me thinking of the LOTR. My brain practically lives in Middle Earth.

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An open letter to Atty. Hector Villacorta, from a humble blogger

Sir, if I might have a word with you.

Before Sen. Tito Sotto’s plagiarism extravaganza this week, I had no idea who you are. You moved in powerful circles in the nation’s capital while I quietly scribbled my thoughts in my little corner of the Internet. Alas, those happy days are gone. Now you’re everywhere I turn in the Philippine blogosphere, littering our space with your arrogant delusions. I’m tired of this. There’s an important debate going on regarding a bill that will drastically affect our country’s future, and you and your big mouth are sidetracking us.

I never thought that an unpaid blogger might have something to teach a senator’s chief of staff, but someone needs to stop you from making a bigger fool of yourself and your boss. Nobody in your office seems willing to do it, so I will. Listen up.

This all started when parts of an anti-Reproductive Health Bill speech made by Sen. Sotto were revealed to be lifted from an article by Sarah Pope, an American health blogger. He denied it, implying that bloggers are too insignificant to steal from, but everyone with a working bullshit detector just laughed in his face. When Sarah heard that a senator from halfway around the world not only stole her intellectual property but also, in her own words, “twisted the message of my blog to suit his own purposes against the women of the Philippines,” she felt the need to respond. (As an aside, see what I did there, when I attributed the words to the source? That’s a quote, Attorney. We’ll get back to that later.)

Now here’s where you come in. You stormed into Sarah’s comment section, dripping false humility and weary condescension, and proceeded to offer an ill-advised pseudo-apology that triggered a chorus of facepalms across the nation. Since then, more blatant plagiarism by Sotto has been uncovered, and you’ve spouted off more of your special brand of idiocy. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. It’s time for you to learn what you’ve been chattering about.

Let’s see. There’s a wealth of misinformation from you in this article from ABS-CBNnews.com. Let’s try to deal with that, shall we?

YOUR WORDS:

  • “Blog site is public domain.”
  • “Blogs are public domain. Anybody can use it [sic].”
  • “Bloggers, beware what you put out on the web. You should not cry if used by the web.”

THE FACTS:

No, Attorney,  a blog isn’t automatically in the public domain.  If an intellectual property doesn’t qualify for a copyright, or if its copyright has already expired, only then is it part of the public domain. Since blogs qualify for automatic copyright protection, and since that protection takes a long time to expire, the information that you and your staff copied for the senator was not, in fact, in the public domain.

You can’t evade  this. The Philippines signed several international copyright agreements, including one specifically designed to protect intellectual property online. We also have our own Intellectual Property Code. You asked where the laws are that would prove the crime of plagiarism was committed. Here they are, Attorney. And yes, just because these laws exist doesn’t guarantee implementation, but it’s kind of disturbing when a lawyer and a senator are either ignorant about them or actively defying them.

YOUR WORDS:

  •  “Nagtatampo pala sila pag naqu-quote sila.” (Trans: Their sensitivities get hurt when they are quoted.)

 THE FACTS: 

That was not quoting, Attorney, that was stealing. To quote means to properly acknowledge the source. You know, like I did with Sarah’s words up there and your own ridiculous sound bites. In blogging we do it by linking to whatever website we used as source.  In speech, you have to actually mention the origin out loud. In academic research and scientific literature, there’s a formal system that gives every first-time college thesis writer nightmares. I assume you are familiar with the last one, because you must be using scientific research for Sen. Sotto’s anti-RH Bill arguments, right? Right?

The point is, attribution is important. Without it, you are letting people believe that the words are your own, essentially claiming credit for them. In short, plagiarizing.

YOUR WORDS:

  • “Government is exempted from the copyright rule. As a general principle,  you cannot withhold information from government.”

 THE FACTS

I hesitate to venture into this territory because you’re a lawyer and I’m not. But the Philippine Constitution can be read by anyone, and maybe you just need a friendly reminder.

As far as I know, we are not yet a Big Brother society, though we do have a Big Brother television show. Here in the Philippines, we still believe that privacy is a right. Sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights assure me that even the President himself can’t force me to let him read my high school diary and use it for his own purposes without a court order. Of course, if it were a matter of national security, I’ll let him read even the unsent love letter to my old crush, but only if he promises not to post it on Facebook.

As for the claim that working for the government exempts you from obeying the law, we only have to look at the cases of those Supreme Court justices charged with plagiarism to know that that’s just another one of your little daydreams. If you mean parliamentary immunity, sure, but it doesn’t make Sotto less of a lying thief. It just makes him a cowardly lying thief.

I’m sure I missed a few other things, but I’m tired. Obviously one of your staff knows how to use google, so next time, please just ask him to do some research before you use any big words in your interviews.

Or there’s also the possibility of Sen. Sotto just saying he’s sorry. Then this will all eventually blow over and we could go back to concentrating on the RH Bill. Just two words, Attorney. How hard can it be?

Sincerely,

A blogger

UPDATE: Here is a neat timeline of all the events in the Sotto Plagiarism Extravaganza from the site that first broke the story. WARNING: May trigger a reflexive facepalm so hard it might break your nose.

GET INVOLVED: There’s an online petition for the Senate’s Committee on Ethics and Privilege to sanction Senator Vicente Sotto III for his misdeeds.  Why should you care? As the novelist Miguel Syjuco writes so eloquently, “If the senator can’t accept responsibility for something as paltry as plagiarism, where the penalty’s hardly more than a public apology, will he take responsibility in future issues where penalties are more grave? If the senator can’t address our grievances fairly when they’re so small, will he face future grievances that are more costly? “

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