I stand here today to accuse.
It begins, I think, with defining the role of free speech. We are – even nominally – free because we are free to talk. We are free to engage, and we are free to be engaged. We are free to discourse, and we are free to be the subjects and objects of discourse. We cherish freedom of speech and guard it jealously; we protect it with vigilance, and for many of us, we stake our lives on it. And with this freedom comes the freedom to defend, and the freedom to accuse.
I accuse Republic Act No. 10175 – the Cybercrime Prevention Act – of taking away from me that freedom. I accuse the government, for their omissions and commissions, in making that act possible. I accuse those who support this law without exception – and claiming that the act of writing well is the best protection against online libel – of surrendering my rights along with theirs.
I said earlier that we cherish freedom of speech, so much so that we guard it jealously. We are strengthened by dissent as much as we are strengthened by consensus. The Internet, social media in particular, opens up these avenues for talk that we can come into consensus, and we can come to dissent. The Cybercrime Law, as it stands, takes those avenues away from you and me. The future of our discourse is haunted by the 80-year-old shadow of a law that criminalizes libel.
The opposition against the Cybercrime Law comes from something that should be obvious: that while people are willing to be subjected to laws that set expectations on their responsibilities, people are not willing to be subjected to laws that impinge on their rights. When those laws suppress us, we need to be bold. We need to be audacious. Every accusation of cybercrime under the guise of libel or a vague offense to morals is a black eye to what the Internet stands for, not the least of which is freedom of speech.
It is a shame, to say the least, that a government in power – and empowered – by social media is the first to put limits on it. The political climate that brought President Benigno Aquino III and the lot of lawmakers in the Senate and the Congress was by and large shaped by the discontent in social media. When Congress railroaded Con-Ass through HR 1109 in 2009, we took the battle to social media. The opposition to the regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was as vibrant and as impassioned on the Internet as it was on the streets. It is disappointing, to say the least, that today’s government – one that benefited from social media – is the first to curtail it.
The enemy of free expression online is not hacking or surveillance or filtering, but harassment, the lack of government support, libel cases, and calls to regulate the Internet. There is no bigger enemy to free expression online than the tools and means of the State to silence dissent and stemming the flow of information. It is very disappointing to see that a Cybercrime Law is in place, but there is no law ensuring the freedom of information. It is very disheartening to see that a Cybercrime Law is in place, yet government is not doing enough to make sure that everyone has access to the Internet. And it is very damning to see that dissent – the very thing that resurrected this country from the deep grave they dug for it at the time of Martial Law – is being curtailed and repressed.
Because of what, exactly? What do we fear from the Internet? What are we so afraid of from netizens that the harshest instruments of the State – the instruments that take away, abridge, and deny free speech – are used against them through the Cybercrime Law? Have they read it and contemplated it for long and hard enough for them to realize and recognize the vehement opposition towards it? Have they ever considered that acts of defiance and resistance on the Internet exist to build the dream of a better nation, not destroy it? Have they recognized that the inalienable right of people to have an opinion, no matter how disagreeable it is, comes with the inalienable right of people to respond to that opinion? Have they ever considered that the good intentions of setting fences to free expression on the Internet can be used as parapets by even the pettiest tyrants in government?
I accuse the framers of the Cybercrime Law, and those complicit with its passage, of doing the exact opposite. I accuse them of taking away from me, you, and every Internet user that freedom of speech in this place that makes us who we are: bloggers, netizens, Twitter users, Facebook subscribers, social media users, and most important of all, citizens with the inalienable right to free speech.
I am a blogger. I am a netizen. I am a Twitter user, a Facebook subscriber, an active participant in social media, and a citizen with the inalienable right to free speech. And if I get accused of cybercrime and everything else in between for expressing an honest, truthful, and reasonable opposition to RA 10175, then so be it. If I get accused of cybercrime for doing the right thing, then let it be so. But until it is criminal to take a stand in a free country to protect your right to freedom of speech and dissent against laws that seek to suppress it, I will not offer my hands for cuffs, nor will I step into a jail cell.
The Filipino people need freedom of information. They need affordable access to the Internet at quality speeds with quality service. The people need a venue to be heard, and the government needs to listen. We recognize the need for protection and recognition, but we also recognize the dangers of a law that destroys the very thing it seeks to protect. We do not need a haphazard Cybercrime Law.
“Truth is on the march,” wrote Emile Zola in his letter 114 years ago. So is freedom, so is speech, and so will the free netizens who I stand along with and say no. No to RA 10175, no to online libel, and no to the instruments that abridge my right to the freest of speech the Philippines guarantees me under its Constitution.