Poe wants Congress to override veto of SIM card, social media registration bill

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
Poe wants Congress to override veto of SIM card, social media registration bill
Article VI, Section 27(1) of the 1987 Constitution provides that while the president can veto a bill passed by Congress, the legislature can overturn this by a vote of two-thirds of each house.
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MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Grace Poe is hoping that Congress will override President Rodrigo Duterte's rejection of the bill requiring the registration of SIM cards and social media accounts, asserting that this measure will protect Filipinos from crime and disinformation.

“We count on Congress to act in a timely manner in reconsidering the bill for approval in accordance with the legislative process,” Poe said Saturday in a statement.

Duterte blocked the bill from becoming law, saying through his acting spokesperson that the measure — which attempts to address terrorism, text scams, bank fraud and defamation online — will “give rise to a situation of dangerous state intrusion and surveillance.”

Article VI, Section 27(1) of the 1987 Constitution provides that while the president can veto a bill passed by Congress, the legislature can overturn this by a vote of two-thirds of each house.

Poe, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said Filipinos are left “vulnerable” to fraud, cybercrime and disinformation if the measure is not enacted.

“Each day without the safeguards from the measure makes our people vulnerable to ripoffs that take away their money and cause them anxiety; the onslaught of cybercrimes and fake news that tear away the fabric of our democracy,” she said.

The senator also defended the bill, which she said is “content-neutral,” from suggestions from Malacañang that it is possibly unconstitutional as it supposedly infringes on people’s right to privacy and free speech.

“Our laws and jurisprudence confirm that freedom of expression is not absolute, as in the cases of obscenity, libel or when public safety and order are at stake,” Poe said.

Drilon provision

Central to Duterte's veto of the measure is the inclusion of social media regulations in the measure, which include the requirement for social media networks to compel their users to provide their real name and phone numbers when creating accounts.

This provision was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon during plenary deliberations on the bill and was later on adopted by the bicameral conference committee set up to thresh out differences between the measures passed by both chambers of Congress.

The goal of the so-called “anti-troll” provision is to unmask disinformation peddlers on social media, who often hide behind the cloak of anonymity.

"By vetoing this bill, the president lets trolls thrive, spread lies and hate, and fuel discord and division," Drilon said in a statement. “Political trolling as we've seen these days is a thriving business. This veto is a big win for troll farms.”

But House Deputy Speaker Wes Gatchalian (Valenzuela), who was the principal author of the measure, said Drilon’s proposal was a “last minute insertion” which is “totally not in line with the essence of this bill.”

“There is nothing in the bill specifying clear guidelines and how to register such a broad environment,” Gatchalian said in a statement. “Though equally important, that provision should have been studied further and filed as a separate bill.”

Sen. Ping Lacson said the Drilon provision could be violative of Article VI, Section 26(1) of the 1987 Constitution, which provides that bills should only tackle one subject as expressed in its title.

“Mandating social media registration could be violative of the ‘one subject one title rule’ as defined under the 1987 Constitution, not to mention the absence of safeguards or guidelines in the said provision not even covered by the title of the measure itself,” said Lacson, who is running for president.

Drilon, however, disputed this, saying his proposal was studied, discussed and eventually included in the bill passed by the Senate, which was agreed to by 22 senators, and later on adopted by the House.

He also said that his provision was not out of topic, as the measure aimed to address crimes done through mobile phones.

‘Enough safeguards’

Beyond the provision on social media registration potentially being unconstitutional as it supposedly violates the prohibition on legislative riders, it has also been criticized by internet freedom advocates and human rights activists for its potential to be used in state surveillance.

“It would give government easy access to the people's SIM card and acquire all the data on the subscriber that the telecommunications company may give,” Rep. Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna party-list) said.

But Drilon said these concerns were “unfounded” as the bill supposedly provided enough safeguards.

“There were enough safeguards. Unfortunately, the veto is nothing but to protect troll operators and troll armies, some of them are in Malacañang,” he said.

Drilon previously accused the Presidential Communications Operations Office of hiring internet trolls as it was revealed during a hearing on its proposed budget for this year that it had 1,479 contractual workers, when it still had 1,776 unfilled plantilla positions. The PCOO denied that it was employing trolls.

Trolls and disinformation operators saw an exponential rise under the Duterte administration, which has largely benefitted from the false narratives they spin on social media. 

Social media companies, like Facebook’s parent company Meta, have cracked down on some of these operations, some of which were linked to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. The AFP and PNP have denied being involved in these.








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