DND: AFP wonât stop free speech on social media
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday thumbed down the pronouncement of newly installed Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay that he wants to use Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 to regulate activities on social media.
STAR/File
DND: AFP won’t stop free speech on social media
Romina Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - August 6, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has assured the public that the newly enacted anti-terrorism law would not be used by state forces to regulate social media.

Lorenzana yesterday thumbed down the pronouncement of newly installed Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay that he wants to use Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 to regulate activities on social media.

“No, the (anti-terrorism law) should not regulate social media. It is not part of its mandate and it would violate freedom of speech and discourse,” Lorenzana told reporters.

The defense chief said he himself was surprised that Gapay made this statement on social media regulation during a presser during his installment as AFP chief last Monday.

Gapay was quoted as saying that the AFP would be providing inputs on the crafting of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the new law, which would include social media regulation.

He added that the online platform has been used by terrorists to radicalize and recruit members as well as plan terrorist acts.

Lorenzana said Gapay tried to explain to him that his remark was incomplete and that he only meant that they want to oversee activities on the “dark net,” an online clandestine network.

Still, the defense secretary said he has reservations on this as the dark net is hard to regulate, even if it is being used for drug peddling, human trafficking and even terrorist acts.

“Even this is difficult to regulate because it is underground and operates illegally,” he said.

No intention

The AFP yesterday clarified that it has no intention of restricting the people’s right to free speech on social media.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the AFP instead vows to protect “the people’s right to free speech, assembly and redress of grievances as enshrined in the Constitution.”

Arevalo issued the clarification following Gapay’s statement last Monday.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently drafting the IRR of the law, with the military among those expected to provide inputs and suggestions on how it will be done.

“By ‘regulating,’ (Gapay) opines the need to explore mechanisms by which we could ensure that social media will not be used as a convenient but powerful means to promote terrorism, recruit new members, solicit and generate financial, logistical and material support from domestic and foreign sources,” Arevalo said.

“This seeks to prevent and avoid a repetition of the tragic experiences our people have suffered in the past at the hands of terrorists which have resulted in countless and senseless deaths of innocent citizens or their serious physical injuries, the deliberate massive destruction of vital government infrastructure and public properties which translated to billions of pesos worth of losses of taxpayers’ money, as well as the destruction of millions of pesos worth of private property that hugely contributed to the crippling of our country’s economy and to the discouragement of potential foreign investors, caused by terrorism and violent extremism,” he added.

Arevalo noted that Gapay talked about that view on account of the AFP’s own experience in fighting terrorists in Marawi and the lessons learned from other countries in their own campaigns against terrorism.

“But if he is to give this as an input to the IRR being crafted, he does so while aware that the AFP is just one among other agencies to be consulted, and his view is subject to constitutional limitations, existing laws and regulations,” Arevalo said.

‘Vague, broad’ proposal

Regulating social media through the anti-terrorism law would risk fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) warned yesterday.

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia expressed grave concern over Gapay’s proposal.

“Not only is the current 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,” De Guia said.

“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.

The CHR official also noted there is nothing in the law that allows for the regulation of social media, adding that pushing for such a questionable provision would go beyond the legislative intent of the law.

Such a move, according to De Guia, justifies the fears of the people already against the law, which is facing over 20 petitions before the Supreme Court.

Malacañang has said that Gapay’s statement was a personal opinion as social media regulation is not covered by the new law.

Various groups have already warned against the new military chief’s proposal.

For De Guia, freedom of expression and the right to privacy are both fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution to ensure that individuals are able to freely utter and publish whatever one pleases without prior restraint.

“While the freedom of expression and the right to privacy are not absolute rights, permissible interference is only allowed upon lawful order of the court or when the exercise of the aforementioned rights are proven to be injurious to the right of the community or society,” she said.

“A free democratic society accepts and welcomes free exchange of ideas,” she added, noting how freedom of expression enables people to speak truth to power and in support of one’s conviction or advocacy.

Alarmed

Meanwhile, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) was alarmed by Gapay’s pronouncement.

Boac Bishop Marcelino Antonio Maralit Jr., who chairs the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Social Communications, said the inclusion of social media would be another dangerous element in the anti-terror law.

“I believe that this inclusion will be another dangerous element/thing to be added to the controversial and highly contested law. I believe this would just be another window for abuse in the already questionable law,” Maralit said over Church-run Radio Veritas.

The prelate said it is still difficult to see the objectivity of the law as the country continues to experience and witness subjective branding or biased profiling of people or institutions that air their grievances against the government.

He cited as an example how President Duterte labeled the “timeout” demand of health workers as an attempt to foment revolution, contrary to what they truly were asking for. – Michael Punongbayan, Janvic Mateo, Robertzon Ramirez

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