"The new AFP chief must be reminded to study the fundamental law."
The newly installed Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, has stirred a hornet's nest by saying that he wants the implementing rules and regulations of the newly minted Anti-Terror Law to include provisions allowing authorities to regulate social media, which he said terrorists were using to recruit members.
The general appears to be starting his tour of duty on the wrong foot.
Or perhaps more precisely, he is shooting his mouth off without possibly even reading the main provisions of the new law. And he might not even be aware of the Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution.
That prompted Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon to tell Gapay that his plan to use the new anti-terrorism law to regulate social media was illegal and unconstitutional and tramples on free speech.
Even presidential spokesperson Harry Roque concurred with Drilon that the recently signed law does not include provisions governing the use of social media in combating terrorist threats.
That may be just the personal opinion of the new AFP chief, but if the current Malacañang occupant tells him that he can do whatever he likes, including using the Constitution as the doormat, then what would stop Gapay from ordering the entire AFP to monitor social media, including Facebook and Twitter, for any telltale signs of "inciting to terrorism", or even just the mildest criticism of government inefficiency, mismanagement and corruption as falling within the ambit of terrorism as broadly defined by the new law?
“That will go beyond the real intent of the law and, therefore, it is illegal and unconstitutional. Freedom of speech is a sacred and inviolable right of every human being. The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech,” Drilon said, adding that the IRR should not contradict what is provided for in the law.
Should Gapay push through with his plan to ferret out "terrorists" in cyberspace, Drilon pointed out, this would merely confirm fears that it could be used to run after critics of the government.
Gapay should also heed the warning aired by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. that regulating social media is a “constitutional crime.” The country's top diplomat averred that security forces should go after terrorist acts but “never content control.”
Then there's also Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, who withdrew as principal author of the bill.
“There is no provision in the law which provides for the authority to regulate social media, precisely because it is not the intention of the legislators to cross the line of protecting freedom of expression and right to privacy,” the lawmaker said.
Another lawmaker, Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite, warned that Gapay’s intention to target online activism by regulating social media content could end up as “martial law in cyberspace.”
We fear that with Gapay as Chief of Staff, the AFP could deviate from its constitutional duty to serve as "the protector of the people and the State" and instead serve only as the protector of the president come what may and treat any and all derogatory statements against Duterte in social media as "inciting" or "abetting" terrorism.
The four services of the AFP are there precisely to defend the people and the State from both external and internal security threats. They're not supposed to suppress legitimate dissent, nor erect obstacles to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, both of which are hallmarks of a democratic society.
In this particular case, should the new AFP chief proceed to deploy the military to spy on cyberspace to ferret out potential "terrorists" in clear defiance of constitutional safeguards, he should be reminded to study the fundamental law because, as we know, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Letter from a reader
Our column last Tuesday, "When Big Business exceeds its bounds", elicited this reaction from reader Elizabeth Miranda:
"I really cannot believe that President Rodrigo Duterte has made the Lopezes the face of oligarchy in the Philippines. This is so unfair given that so many other individuals and businessmen are obviously richer and more powerful than them.”
“This is especially enraging because it always boils down to the fact that President Duterte hates ABS-CBN for failing to air his 2016 political ads, the reason which had been duly explained during the hearings for its franchise, which was another complete mess on its own.”
"And now, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano had the audacity to say this: 'This is a battle between those who are willing to fight their self-interest and change with the system, versus those who deny that there is anything wrong with the status quo—specifically as it relates to themselves—and instead simply choose to blame the politicians and officials in government.'
"As if he's the purest politician alive, as if he didn't vote to deny ABS-CBN's franchise because he said it himself, he had personal issues too with the network, as if he is really willing to change the system when he belongs to a political dynasty. Talk about lip service.
"If the government advises big businesses to 'moderate their greed' as mentioned in this column, perhaps they should do some introspection, be a good example and heed their own call."