Sexual Predators, Bloggers and Senator Sotto

You da man! You da woman! You da Filipino who is clued in.

Who be da most reviled man in the Philippines these days, eh? Clue: It is not Puno. It’s not Enrile. It’s not even Trillanes.
What entity of government be da least respected in the Philippines these days, eh? Clue: this body passed a bill threatening to send Philippine free speech back into the stone ages whilst simultaneously ignoring gross ethical violations by one of its own. It also featured a mud-wrestling match yesterday that was only missing the babes and boobs in bikinis.
Congratulations to Top Blogger Raissa Robles on her latest article detailing how Senator Sotto is acting to back up his threat to go after bloggers who criticize him.  He appears to have surreptitiously inserted an amendment into the Cybercrime Bill that includes online libel as one of the crimes to be policed. The amendment was not objected to when it was proposed during the heat of the Corona impeachment trial, so it was added to the bill. Then it was approved, all the way up through the President’s signature.
It is now the law of the land.
It appears to be a case of fine print ignored, or if not ignored, not thought through as to how the provision can be used to suppress free expression. It is a step backward in the Philippine drive toward a more respected human rights standing in the global and investment communities.
The Cybercrime Bill creates a policing unit under the Executive Branch:
  • SEC. 24. Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center. — There is hereby created, within thirty (30) days from the effectivity of this Act, an inter-agency body to be known as the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC), under the administrative supervision of the Office of the President, for policy coordination among concerned agencies and for the formulation and enforcement of the national cybersecurity plan.”
So we will soon have a police force assigned to the internet. Rather like China. These cybercops will hunt down crimes. Hackers. Stalkers online. People peddling girls online. People selling sex online. Pedophiles online.  Bloggers issuing uncomfortable opinions online.
Here is what we are hypothetically likely to see:
  • Senator Sotto once again steals another author’s original work and uses it word for word without attribution.
  • A blogger who runs a web site calls the senator a moron for doing it again. Commenters drop off their notes screaming “moron, moron!”
  • Senator Sotto registers a complaint with the cybercops.
  • The cybercops, knowing that a senator’s reputation is of national security interest and must be protected, file a libel case against the blogger.
  • The case gets kicked around for 5 years and eventually reaches the Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court considers whether or not the description of Senator Sotto is disparaging. That is, is he a moron or not, in the context in which the word is used?
  • The Supreme Court reads the Constitution and rules in favor of the blogger. The libel provision of the Cybercrime law is struck down as unconstitutional.
You see, this amendment has turned a well-intended law inside out, into a law that is potentially of use to suppress free speech.
Sex predators and bloggers, pulled together under one law.
Hell, this LAW is a libel to bloggers for equating online opinions with the acts of sex predators.
JoeAm will henceforth refer to the new law as the “Cybercrime and Totalitarianism Enhancement Law”.
Well, the law is fact. And it will reshape what is said online. For sure, JoeAm will change his words.
Rather than say “Senator Sotto is an ethically challenged vindictive thug” he will say:
  • “Is it possible that Senator Sotto is an ethically challenged vindictive thug?”, or
  • “Some might say Senator Sotto is an ethically challenged vindictive thug.”, or
  • “I fear that the good Senator Sotto will come across as an ethically challenged vindictive thug.”
Or maybe my readers in America and Australia and Europe and the Middle East will send in comments calling Senator Sotto an ethically challenged vindictive thug.
To that point, I have amended the legal terms of this blog found in the tab “Policy and Terms”.
The paragraph that once said:
  • Comments are a shared property of the commenter and the Society of Honor. Excerpts from comments may be freely taken and re-published as long is attribution is granted to the commenter (name or alias) and the Society of Honor by Joe America.
Has been changed to read:
  • Comments are the property of the commenter who grants the Society of Honor full right of re-publication and use. Excerpts from comments may be freely taken and re-published as long is attribution is granted to the commenter (name or alias) and the Society of Honor by Joe America.
This little tweak assigns responsibility for the content of comments to the commenter.
The problem with the Cybercrime and Totalitarianism Enhancement Law is that it puts bloggers who welcome robust commentary in a bind. The bloggers have a choice: (1) tighten up their editorial ship and exclude any comment that anyone might conceivably consider libelous (a virtually impossible task), or (2) allow robust and open commentary and significantly increase their risk of getting sued for publishing libelous words.
I am not an attorney and am wholly unqualified to parse comments for possible libelous content. I furthermore find it offensive that this law would insist that I become an agent of the State’s newfound totalitarian twist to dampen free speech.
I am for free speech. I am for people being able to call JoeAm an unmitigated moron, an asshole of the Nth degree, and to instruct him to get his ass back to the States. You see, I can counter words with words. That is the beauty of freedom.
If my response to an insult is to try to jail or fine the author of the offensive words, I am, at heart, a totalitarian, vindictive thug.
It is too bad that senators who many would consider ethically challenged and ignorant as to the importance of freedom of expression don’t get it.
They will, it time.
The internet. A new era. A new power.
Use it well.
That, after all, is the intent of the Cybercrime legislation. To stop crimes.
It is also a useful medium with which to call out the ethically challenged. After all, the Senate appears unwilling to take up this righteous task.
And so the entire Senate is called out, too. Some might say they are not much better than clowns when they see an ethical violation right on the floor of the Senate and merely turn their heads away.
Ignore a gross ethics violation. Pass a law that may be used to suppress free speech.
You can write your own description as to what kind of leaders these are and what kind of future the Philippines has with them at the helm.
27 Responses to “Sexual Predators, Bloggers and Senator Sotto”
  1. A bill is signed into law by the president. That is where the buck stops. If Aquino did not fully understand the implications of the amendment, that is a problem. If Aquino did understand and still signed it, then that is a problem for those who see that there is something wrong with the law.

  2. Or he said "I don't like this provision but don't want to eject the entire bill because of one small point. We'll put it in proper perspective when the cybercop agency drafts its rules."So he signed the law because it is an important tool to cut down on sex trafficking, sex predators, and other damaging uses of the internet. It would be a mistake to toss the bill because of a pimple.

  3. Edgar Lores says:

    Some might say the Philippine Senate is a lair of aswangs and manananggals who vindictively bite at each other in shameless bloodlust. They are eaters of the living dead, the zombies, the long-suffering people who are themselves transformed into tik-tiks, wak-waks and soc-socs.I fear Sotto is a bal-bal who has inserted a libel amendment in the banana trunk of the Cybercrime Bill.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Philippine mythological creatures! What a way to characterize our senators! Exactly what I had in mind before. Thanks, Edgar. Now, what do we do to put up with these creatures. Salt, garlic, prayers, bleeding a chicken won't cut it, I suppose.DocB

  5. As with all the laws of the land, a lot depends on the regulations implementing them. If the cybercop unit decided to harass bloggers rather than go after sex predators and honest to goodness creeps, then the President deserves to be thrown out of office for permitting an arm of his Executive Branch to so undermine the foundational principle of free expression. Just as Senator Sotto should never serve another term in the Senate for so blatantly announcing that he is going to go after "bullying bloggers" who have offended his glorified self-image. And he should be censored for his past transgressions if the Senate had any courageous values.Your friend Manualbuencamino (nice exchange on that other thread, I might note) made an excellent suggestion on another blog site. For bloggers who can add acts to their words, simply challenge the libel provision as a constitutional violation. I'd add that that can be done either now, on principle, or later, regarding any incident of restrained speech that is pursued by the cybercops.I think the libel proviso of the law will be rendered fairly useless, in time, for the everyday, honorable blogger. After all, the proper counter to open speech is speech. Not fines or unplugging the internet or jail time. But I think the idea that senators simply don't grasp fundamental democratic principles like ethics and suppression of free speech IS a big deal. And they ought to be hammered for their lack of comprehension and absence of courageous values.

  6. GabbyD says:

    do you think calling someone a moron passes the malice test for public figures? i think not.

  7. Anonymous says:

    JoeAm, I think the door for amendments to this bill has been closed after Pnoy's signing it into law. Two loopholes where insertions or being sat upon unacted are the bicameral conference committee and the IRR.DocB

  8. Edgar Lores says:

    DocB,I know the enemy when I see them. But I do not have the correct weapon, antidote, formula or incantation to use to fight them. I know of garlic, but that may not be effective as you point out. What about the smile of a virgin (purity)? What does the Abe Lincoln movie advise? I may leave that to you, Doc. Your powers are greater than mine in this area.

  9. Who knows what hyper-sensitivities are driving people like Senator Sotto to write this legislation. I agree one word is not enough. But if a popular blogger wrote a strong article, the summation of which was the politician is a moron, and the readers piled on, and the article were quoted in popular media. Maybe the public official would feel his reputation tarnished enough to file a complaint. Or if, as in the case of the plagiarizing episode, the politician wanted to intimidate bloggers, he might file a test case. (Thereby raising the volume of criticism to unheard of decibels; but I can't vouch for the common sense of thin-skinned people).

  10. My assumption it is locked in as law. I think the whole thing will blow over, a tempest in a teapot, and the only real application of the provision would be, say, if a stalker set out online to disparage an individual. I think we rational bloggers, especially with a portfolio of constructive work, are unlikely to be challenged in court.But the off-base mentality and deeds of the senate need to be challenged. Allowing a member to use plagiarized and twisted arguments on the floor of the Senate is astounding to me. Sneaking an element of the law into the text without debate is equally scurrilous.

  11. GabbyD says:

    i mean, judicially. does it pass the judicial test…naturally, any guy with the inclination to do so would sue/complain on one thing or another. we cannot control that.

  12. GabbyD says:

    i agree angel. its all or nothing.

  13. I'm not an attorney so I don't know all the case law surrounding libel. I'm a blogger who occasionally uses creative words, so I am wary of laws that seem to have been written to intimidate.

  14. GabbyD says:

    dont u find it strange that libel law is there to "intimindate", yet making wild accusations isnt intimidation? why is that? shouldnt it be intimidation too?

  15. One is words, the other a threat of action beyond words. So, no, I don't find it strange. The constitution protects words. If wild words damage, they should be constrained or punished. Most often people use them because they think they are doing something constructive. What are you arguing for, silence or a precision to arguments that outlaws wild words?

  16. JoeAm, the implementation of this law is not fully under the executive. It defines an offense which can used not just by the government. The provision on libel will be acted upon inside courts. It does not depend on what the future cybercop agency does.

  17. Anonymous says:

    The law is fact, as stated by JoeAm, signed no less by Aquino as crafted by the Honorable Swines in Congress, with the libel clause inserted by Sus barbatus Sotto.The Swines' reasoning can be easily deduced, but for Aquino…..? Hmmm, has he finally found a way of gagging Kris… or Korina…for that matter…..!And does this mean Angara will be stricken off JoeAm's boy scout list for 2016…?

  18. I rather think that it is unrealistic, in a pluralistic society, for any complex law with multiple provisions, an outcome of considerable negotiation, to be 100% as ANYBODY would like it. The only way for the Legislature or the Executive to get anything done is to compromise and take a little bitter with the sweet. I have no idea what President Aquino thinks of the libel provision, or if it was inserted in the bill with the President's concurrence. I find ridiculous the notion that the bill should have been vetoed by the President on the basis of the libel provision, with all the other provisions tossed into the trash for another year or until the bill is written 100% as the President would write it himself. If that is the case, screw democracy and its checks and balances and compromises and lets get on with dictatorship.I think the libel provision will have little impact on blogging or bloggers.Angara remains on JoeAm's First Class (Boy Scout) list. He does not have to do things 100% JoeAm's way to be deemed a capable, constructive, well-intentioned public official.

  19. JoeAm, the amendment did not seem necessary from the point of view of reconciling the House and Senate versions because it was not there in the first place. The bill that the president signed essentially included one provision from a single senator. This is a clear matter of principle. This illustrates that a single senator can dictate a provision in a law.

  20. Well, if the rest of the legislature is too lazy, inattentive, uninformed, or afraid to challenge, yes, a single senator can put in a piece of the law. But that's what the whole of the law is, isn't it? A bunch of pieces that this senator or that wanted in or deleted or changed. The outcome reflects the will of the Senate, based on majority vote. It reflects the will of the President, based on pragmatism.The amendment appears to be a result of Senator Sotto's thin skin. It would be interesting to know if the other senators even knew the provision was there, or why they accepted it.I am not FOR the libel provision, but any means. I'm also inclined to blame the Senate and not President Aquino for it being there.

  21. GabbyD says:

    oh, then you are against the core logic of libel — that words have REAL effects.

  22. You raise an interesting point, GabbyD, not easy to answer off the top of my mind. I will dedicate a full blog to it. I have to think it through, which I do during the article writing. Give me a couple of days to do that. Words do have real effect, but sometimes words that person A finds negative are positive in a different context. I can call Senator Sotto a scoundrel, which he finds harmful, with the aim of encouraging other senators not to repeat his acts, or readers not to live according to his standards. So my words make him a personal martyr to a higher cause.Thanks for leading me through this. It is worth a full article.

  23. edit: change "martyr" in the last sentence para 1 to "sacrifice".

  24. Edgar Lores says:

    1. Isn't it ironic that the intention of the libel law, which is meant to protect, is twisted by our mad senators to intimidate?2. The first element of libel is the "imputation of a discreditable act or condition to another". The discreditable act may be real or imagined. If I declare "Sotto is an idiot", the condition is real. But is it discreditable? I don't believe so because the man has already discredited himself in public as evidenced by the voluminous commentary on the Web.3. The second element is publication. Statements in cyberspace may be considered to be publication as it makes information generally known. 4. The third element is identification. Yes, I am talking of Tito Sotto, the senator of the 15th Congress of the Philippines who plagiarizes material and does not make proper attribution and, more, surreptitiously inserts amendments related to libel in a bill meant to address cybercrime – cybersex, child porn and spamming.5. The fourth and last element is the existence of malice, that is "if no good intention and justifiable motive" is shown. Ahah! My good intention in imputing the real condition made in item 2 is for the Philippine Congress to pass the RH Bill which will relieve the suffering of Filipino women and which addresses the problem of overpopulation.I rest my case.

  25. Edgar Lores says:

    Re item 2. My words have no REAL effect, because the effect pre-exists.

  26. Yes, irony it is. The insertion of the libel provision into the Cybercrime bill reflects a gross lack of comprehension by Senator Sotto regarding the tensions that exist in a healthy democracy, the reasons free speech and right to gather to protest are explicitly protected. One man's libel is another's check and balance. I've got some more thoughts on this in tomorrow's blog.

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