In the aftermath of the passage of Republic Act 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act, many lessons were taught to the citizens of the Republic of the Philippines. A number of political bloggers learned that calling a moron senator a moron was a criminal act, with the same jail sentence handed down to the unfortunate Twitter user who called Sharon Cuneta overweight. Sixteen online news outfits were shut down, dozens of amateur filmmakers were sent to jail, one Cabinet official stepped down after a complaint by the CBCP’s Melvyn Castro that former anchor and then Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang had made libelous statements in his 2010 blog regarding Castro’s questionable morality—he claimed contraception was a greater sin than wholesale corruption. Castro claimed he was filing a libel case in behalf of God.
That the cybercrime law criminalized online libel without defining online libel meant every political columnist found himself without Facebook account and Twitter handle. Status messages became court evidence. A video posted of a screaming Cabinet wife was ripped from YouTube. Columns that had been published on national dailies became libelous the moment they were shared on personal sites. The takedown clause, allowing the Department of Justice the right to shut down any page with possibly libelous material, became the Secretary of Justice’s weapon of choice, one that had no pity even for the fashion blogger who suggested that Leila de Lima should avoid plunging blue satin in the interest of the viewing public.
The jails filled, not only with the libelous bullies of Tito Sotto’s universe, but also with women found sending naked photos to their OFW husbands, some of whom were brought home for collusion after transcripts of sexual chat sessions and feed from computer cameras were submitted to the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center. Section 4-c of the cybercrime law included banning the use of a computer system for “any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity” for “favor or consideration.”
The government was allowed into the online bedroom, even while the Constitution clearly closed the door. Photographers, painters and filmmakers who posted their online work found themselves with legal summonses, along with the dozen or so brothers of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity whose penises went online after their annual Oblation run.
Ben Chan fought a losing battle with the courts, the prosecutors claiming Bench ads were sexual in nature and were released online for profit. Sex became taboo again, in spite of the protestations of one recalcitrant director who claimed the half-naked photos he shot of himself and posted in his Instagram account were in celebration of both his constitutional freedom and his pectoral muscles.
The journalists at first put up a fight, blacking profile photos, making video statements, for once setting aside rivalries for the sake of a free media.
The younger generation of reporters, brought up on stories of honor and integrity and rising Nielsen ratings, leaped into election coverage with the zeal of starving hounds, ripping into political myths, clawing out lists of misstated political assets, spitting out, fully edited and in high resolution, 10-minute investigative profiles of politicians and justices and army chiefs that became instant viral hits.
It was a grand, grand time for journalism, and it did not end even when the first dozen found themselves in jail. It was a revolution, citizen journalists and the old guard and civil society and the stars of the blogosphere with their pink iPhone cases demanding the repeal of the law. A libel case was a badge of honor. Jailing was an experience. A new army rose, members of the resistance, the generation of hackers and activists who joined forces with the thinning ranks of the New People’s Army, many of whom continue to break into gov.ph to post variations of the Revised Communist Manifesto.
And then it changed. Rent had to be paid. Legal fees rose. Budgets were cut. Media moguls began sending down memos to tone down, watch out, stick to entertainment. Reporters began filing stories copy-pasted from senatorial press releases. Tito Sotto went to town with privilege speeches plagiarizing Martin Luther King and the Sopranos, and very little was said granted the senator’s apparent willingness to sue the pants off every hashtagging, comment-wielding, meme-blasting netizen who had the temerity to claim the senator is an intellectual thief.
Because everything found its way online, films were censored by their directors, books were censored by their writers, opinions became tinny echoes of the government’s press office. The Church sued every website in support of the RH bill, the President sued every news outfit that showed him playing Ragnarok, and the well-heeled children of Ferdinand Marcos sued the President for claiming martial law was a dark time for the nation. Boys who threatened murder and disembowelment and alleged the use of pink lace panties in chat rooms while playing online games were also picked up and tossed into jail.
In the aftermath of the passage of Republic Act 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act, many changes occurred in the online community of the Republic of the Philippines. A lawsuit, currently bleeding the national treasury, was filed against Mark Zuckerberg for allowing the publication of libelous opinions on Facebook. A similar case was filed against YouTube and Google. The word “vagina” was banned from Internet use, along with any form of online orgasm. Preelection online debates became a pleasant exercise of the democratic principle, with much back-patting and very little discussion. The resolution of murders, rapes and robberies, never particularly efficient, was further bogged down as more and more funds, judges and court employees were transferred to the special cybercrimes courts. The same became true for the PNP and the NBI, which were constantly called on by politicians to chase down this or that recalcitrant reporter. On the streets, people were still killed, women were still raped, families starved and small girls were sold along Escolta. In cyberspace, Tito Sotto became king.
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The writer claims this article is fictional. For comments or libel complaints, contact the writer via Twitter @patevangelista.
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