Labor organizer Leody De Guzman said Vice President Leni Robredo may have unintentionally suggested a measure "as draconian as the fascist regime that she has openly condemned and criticized."
AFP, file
Labor party: Social media needs more voices, not fewer
( - March 22, 2019 - 4:49pm

MANILA, Philippines — Regulation of social media, even if meant to counter "fake news" will be a threat to freedom of speech and will keep it from reaching its full potential as an alternative to the mainstream, labor party Partido Lakas ng Masa said Friday.

PLM in a press statement said that a better way to counter misinformation and disinformation is to give more people the opportunity to share and to access information.

"Social media has given power to the people to create online content for massive distribution. It has overtaken traditional media, where content is controlled and influenced—at times, absolutely—by media moguls and corporate sponsors," Benjo Basas, a public school teacher who is also first nominee of PLM in the party-list polls, said.

"Yet, social media has not reached its full potential as an avenue for the free and democratic expression of the majority," he said.

"To counter 'fake news', which is usually for the benefit of the exploiting few, the masses should be given access and opportunity to have their voices heard," Basas also said.

The statement was in response to a statement by Vice President Leni Robredo on Wednesday that Congress should pass a law to regulate social media to protect people's reputations from being attacked online and to curb the spread of disinformation, misinformation and propaganda.

She has since issued a clarification that she meant there should be regulations against "the deliberate, organized, and large-scale dissemination of false information."

On Thursday, she said: "Let me be very clear, I firmly stand by the constitutionally guaranteed human right to free expression and do not support any broad, generalized restriction on this right, whether it is exercised directly, or through traditional and social media." 

READ: Robredo: Regulation needed vs social media 'abuse'

She added: "But I also strongly believe that the deliberate, organized, and large-scale dissemination of false information, 'fake news' in our current parlance, must be distinguished from the individual right to expression. The well-oiled machinery of fake news undermines public discourse by depriving citizens of the accurate information required to participate effectively in a democracy, and must be addressed."

'Draconian' measure

But Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino chair Leody De Guzman, PLM's candidate for senator, said that Robredo's suggestion "if passed, will lead to censorship of criticism, exposes, and progressive ideas."

He said the vice president may have unintentionally suggested a measure "as draconian as the fascist regime that she has openly condemned and criticized." Draconian means excessively harsh and severe.

De Guzman said in Filipino that "in a time when the people are divided between the oppressor and the oppressed, any attempt to muzzle the public is to favor the interests of those who abuse." 

"More than ever, we should uphold and promote the right to freedom of expression," he said.

According to the Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution, "no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances."

In a 2018 report to the UN General Assembly, David Kaye—UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression—said that "broadly worded restrictive laws on 'extremism', blasphemy, defamation, 'offensive' speech, 'false news' and 'propaganda' often serve as pretexts for demanding that companies suppress legitimate discourse," adding states are increasingly targetting content on online platforms.

"Other laws may interfere with online privacy in ways that deter the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression," he also said.

De Guzman said Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code already penalizes the publication of "false news" with fines of up to P200,000.

He added, however, that measures against "fake news" will have little effect as long as people are poor and are desperate for work. He said that "as long as the masses are hungry, they would easily be employed as trolls by opportunist politicians and political operators."

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