Jojo A. Robles

‘Anyare?’

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The true irony, of course, is that a government that promised freedom of information and which leveraged the power of the Internet to get elected has worked instead, upon its assumption to power, to pass a Cybercrime law, whose draconian methods of suppression it defended all the way to the Supreme Court. As they say on the street: “Anyare?”

 

The betrayal of the people who bought into the promises of more transparency and a stronger participatory democracy that the upholding of the constitutional right to free expression will continue to haunt President Noynoy Aquino until the end of his term. After all, the record shows that Aquino not only refused to prod Congress on the various Freedom of Information bills - he also threw the weight of his administration behind the Cybercrime law, which send a chilling message to people who reveled in the freedom of the Internet and who still remember how they used it to elect the current Chief Executive.

The Supreme Court, ruling on this blatant state-sponsored assault on yet another basic right this week, took a middle-of-the-road approach: It declared as unconstitutional some of the more odious provisions, like the much-maligned takedown clause, but did not strike down the one that criminalized the commission of libel by people online.

I understand the Court’s decision to balance the need to protect the rights and reputations of people libeled and bullied online. Libel, after all, can be committed by anyone (not just journalists like me), using whatever platform or medium available, analog or digital.

(To say, like one senator, that the law finally protects them from the unjust attacks of Internet users is ignorant. Public officials, as far as I know, are still fair game for critics; the same rules of criminal libel still apply and retain their distinction about those who hold public office and mere private citizens, who really need the protection.)

But I still cannot comprehend, at this late date, why the government needed to hide its obvious hatred of the dissemination of critical views in a statute that it claims will protect the rights of people attacked (or even trafficked) online. Did it have to take a new law - and a Supreme Court ruling - to do that, or was the Aquino administration merely piggybacking on a legitimate attempt to crack down on child pornography and financial scams on the Internet to push censorship on the ‘Net?

The answer, I think, is obvious. This government, which claims to have an exclusive franchise to the spirit of People Power (whose anniversary will again be commemorated next week), tried to pull a fast one with its Cybercrime law. But it was found out and forced to give up its more obvious attempts to stifle online expression.

And those still dreaming, despite the irrefutable evidence to the contrary, that this administration is serious about passing an FOI measure should wake up and smell the kalachuchi. That’s another promise that will never be fulfilled, like the eradication of both corruption and poverty.

Anyare? We’ve been had, it’s that simple.

I’d be a lot more careful next time around with people who promise everything we want. I’d rather find someone who promises smaller things that will have a better chance of coming to pass.

* * *

I’d really thought I had written all I would on the strange case of Michael Christian Martinez, our lone, fiercely determined bet to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Then, like Michael Corleone, I’m dragged back into the kerfuffle by Malacañang Palace, which claimed that Martinez’ mother’s e-mails seeking financial aid for the athlete went unread and unacted upon because they ended up in President Noynoy Aquino’s spam folder.

Apparently, like all of us who have no direct access to the President, we never got the memo about where to send our letters so that we may get some of the treatment that Janet Lim Napoles got. I’m talking about the one letter (that we know of, anyway) that the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam sent that immediately got Aquino’s attention, to get the National Bureau of Investigation off her case.

What chance would anyone who wanted someone in Malacañang (never mind Aquino himself) to see a citizen’s request if you are immediately shunted to the recycle bin? Why does an administration that supposedly prides itself with its direct online rapport with its constituents even have such a setting for the President’s official e-mail address?

With all the personnel and resources that this government has to be responsive to its “bosses,” why is it that all it manages to do is to hire Facebook trolls to shoot down dissenters on critical comment threads? Or are those who go on the Internet to declare that Aquino is “the best President we ever had” the only ones that don’t get the “mark as spam” treatment?

 

And then there’s this story about a nun who represented the victims of Typhoon Yolanda and a beauty queen who bought sought an audience with Aquino. But that’s for another time.

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