Dismissal won’t make us go away

By Marian Pastor Roces

We are told off: with freedom comes responsibility.

As though we didn’t know. As though we — the cyber-throng quick-witted enough to recognize bs thrown at us — don’t know, uhhhm, shit.

The reminder itself insults. It reminds us instead that the Philippines’ leaders think so very little of her citizens. Reminds us that this contempt for the populace is precisely the prevailing culture of its leadership—a culture that consumes cynical and idealist political, ecclessiastical, tradjorno leaders alike.

These authorities dismiss our outrage as hysteria. They know no better than to denigrate a remarkable show of smarts, wit, grace, inventiveness, and in fact wisdom, in the face of the grave threat to democratic space.

So they — and their mouth-pieces — talk down to us. Comporting themselves as though Medieval bishops speaking from on high, they deign teach us about democracy. About responsibility. Us! The citizenry that in the last quarter century has been consistently quicker than its leaders and its mainstream narrators in defining the possibilities and responsibilities of democracy.

Oh, and our own living-dead Medieval frailocracy have naturally joined the pious pantheon, none of whom have read Orwell’s “1984,” and perhaps for this reason have neither sense of irony nor foreboding. It took the netizens to point out the awful choice of date That Law came to pass.

But were it only illiteracy, perhaps our leaders deserve our patience. Trouble is, sheer illogic hobbles their attempts at Reason. They consign sundry critics on fb to the same criminal status as child porn traffickers and identity thieves, but this does not strike them as monstrous. They bandy Constitutional guarantees of the very freedom of expression they constrict. This does not seem to them oxymoronic. Or moronic.

Preposterously, they actually think netizens desire impunity—to libel freely, to shirk penalty—where the call from the netscape is for a deeply informed understanding of the radically interactive nature of digital media, with its built-in self-policing nature.

Self-policing systems are necessarily upheld by democracies (and feared and controlled by autocratic states, needless to say) because in allowing the individual citizen the same power as the big actors, at least for a minute or two, it does move societies in the direction of equality.

So it is now the citizenry, again, taking the high moral ground in this fracas. We first of all enjoin our leaders to get off their hoary paternalistic platforms, to breathe the envigorating air of that democratic space where Filipinos thrive on sharpened skills to spot and contest lies and manipulations.

Listen, then, oh grand leaders and inquisitors.

We have no use for the freedom to libel.

What’s at stake is the freedom to challenge the impunity of the powerful, as we go about our daily convivial, sometimes testy, and sure, often foolish chatter.

We have no desire to shirk responsibility, and because of this we trounce trolls quickly, quarrel with the reckless and fiendish on line, and think before we click.

What’s at stake is right of netizens to keep for ourselves the responsibility for maintaining healthy exchange in the ethereal and physical communities we live in. Not to surrender this responsibility to Big Brother.

We have no big urge to drag the unwilling into our newfangled netizenship that demands a savvy grasp of the technological enabling of democracy, and its dangers.

What’s at stake is an idea whose time is now: the separation of net and State apparatus. It is a separation built on the distinction between traditional media which historically has merged too often with State power; and the net, which proliferates imagined communities beyond the myriad imprisonments and impunities of the past.

What’s at stake is the fast-track education of our leaders, so they know how absurd and perilous it is to try to retrofit ancient repressive methods on people power revved up by 21st c tech. They have to step up and recognize the Filipino body politic as uniquely adept at discerning pivotal difference.

That body politic knows that the net diffuses centralized power. That traditional media consolidated power despite the best efforts of great journalists. That the net subverts gate keepers and power brokers. That traditional media yielded to these creatures. That the net has thus far disabled—where traditional media were often the precisely the media for—elite capture of resources, discussion, and the shaping of society.

What’s at stake is the progressively sophisticated use of a locally-formed computer literacy to advance a century old Philippine freedom agenda. Freedom from repressive overlords.


  1. “The reminder itself insults. It reminds us instead that the Philippines’ leaders think so very little of her citizens.”

    so, how about print libel laws, slander laws? do those insult people too?

    how about criminal law? is that an insult? what me — steal stuff?! i’m insulted!

  2. For purposes of discussion, let me play the devil’s advocate (which I usually do) and look the other possible implication behind the hullabaloo with regard to the just recently passed cybercrime law.

    For the most part, the opposition to the law was mainly focus on the cyberlaw on libel. Everybody says that it’s a dictatorial scheme intended to silence the voices of dissent and not really to safeguard and protect one’s right against malicious or libelous imputation against one’s reputation or person.

    To be fair, both sides have their points. To the supporters of the law, it is indeed some sort of protection and a way of pre-emption against offender or would-be offender poise to take advantage of the privilege of cyberspace. To those opposing the law, it smacks of censorship and outright suppression of the right to free speech and expression.

    Very clearly, a common ground is necessary to calm down both sides and for the law to become acceptable.

    Now, this is where the tricky part comes in.

    A number of Filipinos, wishing for the country to realize economic success, usually cite the vibrant economy and political stability of our Asian neighbors such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand to name a few as models to accomplish prosperity and stability. The mentality was why we cannot be like them and why shouldn’t we imitate them? Not surprisingly, the idea of a strong man rule, ala-Lee Kuan Yew, is usually the subject that crops up whenever the economic and political stability of the country is talked about.

    However, the irony of it all is that, those countries we see as successful and stable was able to become prosperous with the help of repressive or authoritarian laws. The likes of Lee Kuan Yew or Mahathir utilized the power and defended on the oppressive effect of the laws to govern without so much dissent or resistance to bring about the reforms they want to happen.

    If we really want to follow their examples, we have to thread the path they went through. The question is, are we ready? To those who admire our Asian neighbors, this cyberspace law could be the yardstick that will indicate if whether or not we can be like them.