The headline in today’s Manila Bulletn is that hackers have taken down some government websites to protest the new “cyberlaw”.

The cyberlaw is supposed to protect folks against having their email and facebook sites hacked, and to stop hackers from stealing your identity, but it also includes laws against libel:

Basically, the group claimed, the new law can imprison anyone who posts comments on blogs, Twitter, or Facebook and other social media sites on the Internet that are found to be libelous.

Anonymous Philippines described the new law as “the most notorious act ever witnessed in the cyber-history of the Philippines.”

Nor will it protect you if you tweet on your iPhone:

The provision criminalizing libel “not only on the internet, but also on ‘any other similar means which may be devised in the future,'” violates free speech, the petitioners said.They added: “The real time data collection of traffic data violates the right to privacy and the right against unreasonable searches and seizure.”

This is a very dangerous law.

How bad is the bill?

Yuga tech points out that the present libel law didn’t include the internet, but that the cybercrime law does: And you can not only be fined for every blogpost, but for every day that the blog post is on line. 

The President defends the law however: 

MANILA, Philippines – (A government spokesman) yesterday defended the Cybercrime Prevention Act, saying that freedom of expression in social media must come with responsibility and libel law for journalists must likewise apply to bloggers and other people posting articles or comments online…You’ve got freedom to report – the freedom of expression is always recognized but freedom of expression is not absolute.

The libel law here already puts a chill on investigative reporting.

Case in point: When the old lefty activist Archbishop Cruz wrote a column pointing out that some companies provided their loveliest employees to staff a birthday party for free at a birthday president for the previous lovely ex President’s husband, the lovely ladies  sued him for defamation. The bishop ended up arrested and fined for libeling the lovely ladies in his newspaper column, even though he did not name any one of them, and only named a few of the companies and politicians involved.

Which is one way to try to shut him up.

Another way to shut up reporters and whistle blowers is more direct: You just order a hit job on them, and figure your friends/relatives/those you bribe in the government will cover up for you or warn you if they actually try to arrest you, and of course, if you have enough money, the witnesses will conveniently disappear or be disappeared.

Which is why the Philippines has such a high rate of journalist murders, 70 of them killed since 1992. Indeed, it’s probably cheaper to murder someone (usual rate, $100, but our local rate is half that amount) than take them to court for libel.

Take the case of our nephew’s murder. He was killed while talking to the son of a politician who was supposed to be eliminated (when the killers didn’t find their target, they just killed his sons instead, as a warning). This murder was not about human rights or keeping the environment clean:  it was done so that the corrupt mayor could keep his job and continue skimming money from the city budget.

We knew of rumors that there was going to be a hit the week before it occurred, and warned our nephew not to go near the family, which he of course ignored… And afterward, we knew and everyone in town knew who ordered the murder, where the murderers they hid out before and after the murder, and how much the mayor was skimming out of city funds to bribe an office in Manila to stop or at least slow down the investigation. We knew, and everyone in town knew, but no one could put the rumors in print because we would have been guilty of libel.

In our case, with the new anti corruption President in charge, the mayor behind the hit on our nephew finally was ordered to be arrested, but he was warned and “disappeared” so we still haven’t seen justice. A similar story will probably be told about the murderers of Father Tentoro or those who murdered an environmental activist in Palawan.

So kudus to the president for his war on corruption: but does he realize this new cyberbill is shutting down the ability of whistleblowers to point fingers?


Now, if you live in the USA, you probably aren’t worrying about such things. But maybe you should worry.

Ask Stacy at “TheOtherMcCain” blog  about harassment by libel laws.

And it is worse elsewhere: In Canada, whistleblowers like Mrs. Gay Caswell, who uses her blog to complain about corruption and drug use in her town, named a name of a prominent politician. Instead of an outside investigation, she ended up being harassed by court cases and a fine that she couldn’t afford to pay, and ordered to remove all posts on her blog where she dared to name names.

So the next time you hear about freedom of speech, remember that in many countries, corruption is allowed to exist because libel laws stop people from printing rumors told by those who fear for their lives.

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