CHR raises alarm on proposed social media regulation under anti-terrorism law
This file photo shows the profile page of social media site Twitter.
CHR raises alarm on proposed social media regulation under anti-terrorism law
( - August 5, 2020 - 10:36am

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights raised the alarm on the military chief’s proposal to regulate social media under the anti-terrorism law for possible overreach beyond the law’s intent.

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia, in a statement, noted that not only is the proposal vague but it is also “broad and susceptible to overreach in terms of guaranteeing the right to privacy and right of individuals to freely express their ideas.”

“The threat of restraint posed by the inclusion of a provision to regulate social media may constitute a bar for individuals to continue voicing out their opinions and ideas, curtailing fundamental freedoms,” she added.

Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said Monday that they would propose to add a provision on social media regulation in the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. The military chief said terrorists have been using social media to “radicalize, recruit and even plan terrorist acts.”

De Guia, however, pointed out that there is nothing in the law that covers regulation of social media and to push for this provision would go beyond its legislative intent. This would also only justify the fears of the people of the anti-terrorism law.

The CHR spokesperson stressed that a democratic society champions free exchange of ideas. “Redress for wrongdoing, however, must not target legitimate dissent and honest opinions. At times when the discourse is critical and may seem discomforting, let critical points be taken in with an eye towards improvement,” she added.

“In the end, the protection of the freedom of expression is not about protecting our sense and sensibilities from criticism. It is protecting the right of all individuals to freely express themselves without fear—with the goal towards a better tomorrow and dignity for all,” De Guia also said.

In a separate statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines rejected Gapay’s proposal saying this is “death of freedom of expression.”

The journalists’ group said that while they support the government’s fight against terrorism, they raised: “Would stifling people’s rights and liberties achieve this goal?”

“The only way to defeat an idea is with better ideas. To try forcing one out of existence amounts to terrorism and, more often than not, can only beget more terrorism,” the NUJP added.

The NUJP is one of the more than 20 petitioners that asked the Supreme Court to strike down the law as unconstitutional.

The petitioners, composed of Constitution Framers, legal luminaries, academe, journalists, rights groups, youth and Moro lawyers, assailed the law for its “overbroad” and “vague” definition of terrorism and the other crimes penalized under it. This makes these provisions prone to abuse and left its interpretation to the discretion of law enforcers—police and military—whose history of red-tagging does not inspire assurance of fair implementation of the law, they said. — Kristine Joy Patag

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