Akbayan and the Cybercrime Law

Posted: October 3, 2012 in Exposing Akbayan, Human Rights, Socio-Political

We have three questions for Akbayan in relation to its position on the Cybercrime Prevention Act:

What do you really find objectionable in the law? Who do you think is accountable for this? What do you now propose to do?

Recent public statements reveal confusing positions articulated by some of Akbayan’s leaders. These pronouncement lead us to believe that Akbayan is not really serious in fighting this law, and is more interested in preserving its alliance with President Benigno Aquino III who signed the law on September 12, 2012

Let us examine Akbayan’s statement dated September 20, on the event of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Martial Law.

“(W)hile the days of military rule are long gone, vestiges of its legacy have found its way to the present times. A case in point is the recently passed Cybercrime Prevention Law.”

“While we laud the intent of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to combat child pornography, identity theft, computer related forgery and other offenses using the said law; we are alarmed that some its provisions such as its anti-libel clause are alarmingly repressive in nature.  We believe the law’s provision on libel is ill-conceived and will only serve to limit the public’s use of the internet as a venue for airing their opinions, views, and even dissent.”

The group seems to recognize the repressive nature of the online libel provisions. It talks of the vagueness of the provisions and how these are subject to abuse by authorities. However, the group’s gratuitous statements regarding Aquino’s intent at combating child pornography, identify theft and computer-related forgery are attempts to find some saving grace in the assailed law, as well as an attempt to shield their political ally in Malacanang form any more public criticisms.

 

Galit na galit kay Sotto, pero sobrang tahimik naman kay Aquino.

The group blames the internet libel provision on “cut-and-paste master, Senator Vicente Sotto III”.  While it is true Sotto inserted the provision, and that the Congressional Bicameral Committee approved the insertion,  there is absolutely no effort on the part of Akbyan to hold Aquino accountable for signing the law with Sotto’s insertions. This is just like blaming the AFP Generals for the abuses of martial law, and but leaving out Marcos who signed Proclamation 1081. It is simply absurd.

This is even more absurd when taken in the context that Palace spokespersons have consistently defended the President’s move to sign the law, saying the measure was reviewed by Palace lawyers. It means that Aquino read the insertions and saw that they were good enough to be signed into law.

And that is where the problem lies. By not seeing Aquino’s accountability in the Cybercrime Law fiasco, and by limiting their criticism of the law to the online libel provisions, Akbayan recommends measures that do not solve the problem.

From their Sept. 20 statement, we get the following proposal:

“As such, Akbayan calls on President Aquino to address the infirmities of the law by inviting media people and organizations, social movements and civil society groups to participate in the crafting of the law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) to negate the law’s repressive provisions and safeguard the rights and welfare of internet users. The Aquino government must swiftly act to salvage this law or otherwise the people will have no option left but to bring this to court.”

Akbayan thinks that by involving the people in the crafting of the IRR, the patently unconstitutional provisions of this law can be cured or “negated”. Good grief, any student of the law would say otherwise. The IRR cannot accomplish more than what the law sets out to do. If the law intends to criminalize online libel, the IRR cannot reverse or negate this. If the law allows the take-down of websites by the DOJ sans a court order, the IRR cannot reverse or negate this. What Akbayan is doing here is fostering the illusion that engaging the Aquino regime in crafting the IRR would somehow be able to “salvage” the law and address the public’s just concerns. This is not just reformism. It’s plain dishonesty or just sheer ignorance.

However, Akbayan does believe in the possibility of going to court, but it seems only as a last resort, when the people “have no option left”.

There seems to be changes though in their next statement on the Cybercrime law, which came 11 days after, on October 1, the same date when the LP-Akbayan-NP-NUP senatorial slate was launched in Club Filipino.

“A day before the scheduled en banc session of the Supreme Court, Akbayan Party-list today called on the high tribunal to recognize the petitions filed by several groups and concerned citizens questioning the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Law with the end view of ruling in favor of internet freedom.”

“We ask the Supreme Court to give due course to the petitions filed questioning the constitutionality of the cybercrime law by recognizing that the petitioners have legal standing as taxpayers and as citizens who use the internet and are in danger of being prosecuted under the said law,” Akbayan Vice-Chairperson Marie Chris Cabreros said.

Akbayan said it is worried that the Supreme Court might not recognize the legal standing of the petitioners as the high tribunal can argue that the petitioners cannot show that they have been injured with the passage of the cybercrime law.

It is not clear if at this point, Akbayan had already abandoned its position of participating in drafting the IRR now that the people have already taken up the “last option” of going to court. Or if Akbayan just realized the futility of their proposal on the IRR. Or if Akbayan realized there was already overwhelming support for a legal challenge before the SC and zero support for the IRR proposal. As of October 1, there were already 7 petitions filed before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of various provisions of the new law.

In their October 1 statement, Akbayan’s main concern was that the court might not recognize the locus standi of the petitioners which would lead to the dismissal of the petitions. Akbayan was urging the court to recognize the standing of the petitioners and give due course to the petitions.  I find that strange since the issue of standing should primarily be the concern of the petitioners themselves, and since Akbayan is not a petitioner, well… sige na nga.

Oh yes, still no mention of Aquino’s accountability for signing the law in their October 1 statement. Which is to be expected since, as we said, that was the launch date of the LP-Akbayan-NP-NUP-NPC-LDP ultra-electro-magnetic powerhouse senatorial slate in Club Filipino. Why ruin an important occasion over a small matter such as our constitutional rights? Why issue a strongly-worded statement against Aquino when he’s about to raise your hand and endorse your senatorial bid?

However, in the October 1 statement we find some “refinements” in Akbayan’s position.

“Akbayan said it opposes parts of the law including a clause on e-libel and provisions that allow law enforcers to monitor data of people and companies on the Internet even without a court warrant. It also opposes the takedown or blocking of websites even without a court ruling.”

So it appears that their opposition to the Cybercrime Law is now based not just on online libel, but also on other unconstitutional provisions, right?

Wrong.

A tweet from Akbayan’s Risa Hontiveros also dated October 1 says that Akbayan accepts Cybercrime Law EXCEPT libel provisions (all caps hers).

And to further add confusion to the issue, Ms. Hontiveros proposes three ways to address her singular concern regarding online libel. First, for Congress presumably to repeal the provision. Second, for the Supreme Court to “side with the complainants”, and in the meantime, for someone to “neutralize” libel through IRR (again?).  All these are supposed to be happening somewhat simultaneously.

In  her October 2 ‘tweets’, Ms. Hontiveros also incited the public to “commit an act of ‘libel’” against Sotto (hanep), calling him a threat to freedom (naks), but still no word on the guy who actually signed the law, same guy who would be implementing the law. It’s like the anti-Sotto rants are deliberately being done to deflect attention away from Aquino.

Going back to Akbayan’s proposals, as our counsel explained, the IRR cannot reverse the provisions of a law. That track is a dead end, and Akbayan should know better than to foster the illusion that this is the way to “neutralize” this oppressive law and its unconstitutional provisions.

So that now leaves us with two options, the Supreme Court and Congress. Akbayan did not file any case before the Supreme Court. They merely urged the High Court to give the petitions due course, worried that the petitioner’s locus standi would not be recognized (sige na nga).  As of this writing Akbayan also has not filed any house bill seeking to amend the law.

So that  leaves us with?

There you have it. Because of Akbayan’s alliance with the Aquino regime, they cannot seem to truly see this fight through to the end. They will not criticize Aquino for his responsibility in signing the law (si Sotto lang may kasalanan). They will try to “salvage” the law, believing in the law’s “good intentions”, despite so many provisions that assault our freedoms. They will even convince us that the law is OK, “except” for the libel provision. They treat our efforts with the SC as a “last option”, showing “support” only after seeing overwhelming public opinion favoring the SC action (may tawag dyan eh). They will also try to lure the people into a meaningless process such as the drafting of the IRR (and tell you it’s part of their dual-tactics engagement within and outside the Executive).

For the record, I have no personal quarrel with anyone from Akbayan. And I know only a few of them personally. But I raise these issues so that the public may know. And I urge Akbayan members to raise the same to their leaders.

PS.

Kung sasagutin man ito ng Akbayan, sana umusad na tayo sa diskursong ‘RA-RJ’, ‘communist front’, ‘sumuporta kayo kay Villar’, ‘laos na ang armed struggle’ blah blah blah. Susmaryosep, sagutin nyo na lang yung tatlong tanong sa umpisa.

UPDATE: Today October 5, Pres. Aquino, Akbayan’s political benefactor, announced that he wants to keep the libel provision in the Cybercrime Law. So paano kaya ito, Akbayan? Still hoping the IRR would change things? Still not able to criticize Aquino? Still saying that the Cybercrime Law is not all that bad? Btw, the ruling clique seems to be singing the same chorus. “Let’s wait for the IRR”. Even Speaker Belmonte is not keen on amending the Cybercrime Law at this time and tells critics to “wait for the IRR”. And Malacanang has scheduled a dialogue between  Cybercrime Law critics and the DOJ, also on the issue of the IRR (on the same date as the SC en banc).

We’re being drawn to a path that leads to a cliff. Huwag magpaloko.

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  1. […] consistent with the Aquino line. For instance, 15 petitions were filed vs the Cybercrime Law, but not one was filed by Akbayan. They were not seen in the rallies and in fact tried to shield the Palace by attacking Tito Sotto […]