Deserving or not, Sen. Vicente Sotto III has become the lightning rod for criticism about the new cybercrime law. Despite initially denying that he had inserted the much-maligned libel provision into the law, he is still seen by many as the culprit because of his recent speeches in the Senate, opposing the Reproductive Health or RH bill, using plagiarized content from blog posts. People may be speculating that he had the most to gain from inserting the libel provision because of his disdain for bloggers and their consequent uproar.
Regardless of who is to blame, however, the RH bill and cybercrime law illustrate the awesome power our government officials wield over our civil liberties. Used wrongly, the RH bill could favor the narrow religious beliefs of some, while denying the freedom of choice of others. Implemented vindictively by rich and powerful politicians, the cybercrime law could be analogous to the infamous Right to Reply bill.
Our government officials must realize that, like the agora of ancient Greece, the Internet is today’s marketplace of ideas. Citizens then, netizens now, were free to engage and speak their minds. Unruly behavior then or inappropriate content now may be regulated in varying degrees, but never in such a harsh manner; the penalties provided by the law for libel are higher than those contained in our penal code. Like a centurion in command of a hundred soldiers, that libel provision will certainly crush any voice of dissent.
Make no mistake: Our government is cognizant of the power of the Internet, particularly social media, in shaping world events. Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring and the Libya riots are just the most recent episodes spurred by online content. Naturally, our government will seek ways of control. But for better or worse, considering our dictatorial past, our government officials must not be given the temptation to control a woman’s womb or the worldwide web.