We are all affected by this law. All users of mobile phones are vulnerable. So are those who are Internet media savvy as well as occasional users of the Internet. Most of our landlines pass through the net nowadays which makes all of electronic communication vulnerable. It poses dangers to ordinary people that comments on inequities heaped upon them by society.
~ Giovanni Tapang, PH.D.
CONTROLLING THE flow of information — deciding what citizens are told, how it’s presented to them and even determining what they should and shouldn’t know — has always been a critical concern among the powerful. Whether in the Philippines, its neighbors, or in the most backward or most developed countries of the world, the kind of information that reaches citizens is crucial to the outcome of elections, the making of the policies that decide the quality of life of millions, the staying power of dictators, and even the prospects for war or peace.
The entire planet is inundated with tsunamis of information daily, thanks to the international media organizations’ relentless transmission of reports, commentary and images via cable, print and the Internet. The swift advance of information and communication technology has also made national borders of no consequence to filtering information. At the national level, radio, TV and print assail the senses daily in most countries including those yet to achieve the same level of development as Japan and most Western nations.
But only at first blush does the control of information seem futile. For all the billions of characters, bytes and pixels they transmit daily, the world’s biggest media conglomerates, thanks to the incessant mergers and acquisitions that have made them a mere handful (seven media conglomerates have a global monopoly over news and entertainment), share a homogenous view of the world. Built into the international media system is a common perspective rooted in the culture and politics of the handful of Western countries where the global media organizations had their origins. This perspective is inevitably, and often unknowingly, assimilated by the broadcasters, reporters, and commentators in the countries where the international corporate media have a monopoly over the transmission of news and entertainment from the rest of the world.
A homogenous view of the world has taken root in most countries, where how events in the Middle East, Asia, the Americas, Africa and anywhere else are perceived is crucial to the making of public opinion. The consequence is the absorption on a nearly universal scale of values and ideas that taken together constitute the most formidable obstacle to change even in the most desperate of circumstances, human consciousness and perception being a critical factor in the transformation of nations and the world.
The Philippines’ recent experience with two bills — one already a law, the constitutionality of which will be debated in the Supreme Court in January, the other practically on its last gasps in the 15th Congress — is instructive. The control of information-what and how much citizens need to learn about themselves, their governance, and the rest of their society — is basically what drove the almost immediate passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, and what has prevented the Freedom of Information bill, after nearly two decades, from being passed.
The FOI bill, despite nearly two decades of debate and discussion, and, during the Aquino III administration, the drafting of at least three versions, has aroused the most violent opposition in the House of Representatives. And yet, an FOI Act has been in place in Thailand for years. Even Pakistan has one. It is not particularly revolutionary, and an FOI act should have long ago been part of the country’s laws.
The version of the Freedom of Information bill that’s still up for discussion in the House plenary even falls below the standards to which the United Nations encourages compliance. It enshrines executive privilege in law, exempts from public access information on “national security” — a particularly contentious phrase in this country because of its experience with authoritarian rule — and leaves it to the President to declare as an exception any information that in his opinion falls under that category.
As passed by the House committee on public information, the FOI bill doesn’t have the “sunshine provision” that would automatically make information exempt from public scrutiny available after a specific period. Instead, the bill leaves such a declaration to the President’s discretion. Inputs in discussions over policy are also exempt from disclosure, thus preventing citizens from participation in the making of public policy.
Despite these provisions that actually favor State secrecy, resistance to the FOI bill remains strong in the House of Representatives, and its fate as of this writing (December 20) was still uncertain, since Congress adjourns for the holiday recess today, December 21. The scope and power of the opposition to it is indicative of the mindset among the country’s power elite that regards information as dangerous, and looks at the citizenry as immature, of limited capacity for discernment, or likely to abuse its own freedoms to be worthy of the information that’s readily available to the powerful and privileged. For all the ringing rhetoric, however, the very bottom line is that Philippine officialdom has too many secrets it would rather not be made public.
The fear of the citizenry is evident in the severe restrictions the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 puts in place against those who regularly use the Internet to report and comment on issues of public concern — most of them ordinary citizens who have discovered the empowering character of the new media. The Act punishes free expression by ordinary citizens even more harshly than the 82-year-old libel law does professional journalists.
To what end this enthusiasm for curtailing free expression and this resistance to access to information? In the hostility to an FOI act is not only the fear that the media would be even more powerful. Implicit in that fear is fear of citizen empowerment as well. What makes governments suspicious of the press is that it can — and it is no more than a possibility — provide the public with, among others, the information it needs on the problems and issues of governance and society, what they mean, and, either directly or indirectly, what the possible solutions are. The media by themselves have no power beyond shaping the consciousness of their audiences, the power to change things being ultimately resident in the citizenry.
Change in the country of our sorrows is possible only when the realities of poverty and injustice are in conjunction with citizen consciousness of the roots and causes of those realities. It’s an awareness that could lead to the exploration of possible solutions. The Philippine experience demonstrates that information is crucial in the shaping of the predisposition for change and citizen openness to the means as to how it may be achieved. It is the absence among the people of meaningful information that has made change of any kind in the Philippines problematic. It is the instinct to keep things as they are that makes control of information so crucial to the Philippine elite.
THe Inquirer asked: “But didn’t he [JPE] himself tell the public on Feb. 22, 1986, as he and . . . Ramos barricaded themselves at Camp Aguinaldo after the discovery of their coup plot. . . , that the ambush was fake? Together with Ramos and [soldiers] that formed the Reform the AFP Movement (RAM), Enrile, speaking on radio, confessed, among other things, that Marcos ordered the staging of the ambush to contrive a final act by his [foes] that forced him to place the country under martial law. The Filipinos forgave him, and trooped to Edsa by the millions to shield him and Ramos and their troops against an assault by Marcos’ military.” PDI, September 30, 2012, A8, col. 1.
If JPE lies, will son Jackie with his Alfie Anido problem? Fruit does not fall far from the tree? The version in the auto-bio that there was no fake ambush seems to be revisionism by one who has done good, validating that all autobiography is vanity (Durants). Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus?
I borrowed a copy of JPE’s auto-bio last Tuesday, but had time only to skim it, with all else I have to do. Kindly repeatedly invited to the book launch by JPE’s staff and the sponsoring Lopezes, I could not go. I was curious on JPE’s takes on certain items. Like 1) JPE’s supposed 1986 shouting match with PCGG’s Ramon Diaz, presumably over ill-gotten wealth. Gutsy of RD as the rest of us had been tsunamied by the JPE-FVR getaway. No mention. 2) How JPE got word on the need to meet Prez Cory who fired him on Nov. 23, 1986, a Sunday, and whether what happened was what he had expected. Page 665. Cryptic. Elliptical 3) Our early post-Edsa meets on freeing all political detainees, etc. In Club Filipino and Camp Crame meets were difficult and emotional. Uncle Jovy Salonga and I were committed to release all such detainees, a battle cry of years, which unimplemented, would put our credibility on the line right off. FVR was taciturn. JPE was against, as to the extreme left. Page 660. JPE wrote about the Ver-Edna romantic rumors. Page 482. What about his own love life? Page 37. GFs, he said in one memorable interview.
JPE wrote that on the night of Feb. 25, 1986: “I met President Aquino in an open area behind the house of Mrs. Josephine Reyes. With her were Jimmy Ongpin, Nene Pimentel, and [ex-]Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma, Joker Arroyo, Ramon Mitra, Jojo Binay, Ernie Maceda, Rene Saguisag, and others. . . . President Aquino asked someone to call Ambassador Bosworth and she talked to him. All of a sudden, I heard her exclaim, “No! I do not want him here. I want him out of the country!” I was certain her remarks meant President Marcos.” Page 635. “. [S]hortly after her oath-taking, Cory held court at the head of the huge rectangular table in the cabinet room where Marcos had presided. Doy Laurel as Vice President sat normally to her right and I sat next to Doy as the Defense Secretary. To her left was Joker, her first Executive Secretary, who was pretty much the one steering the meeting. The rest of the cabinet members like Nene P, Neptali G, Rene Saguisag, Bobbit Sanchez, Ernie M, and the others occupied the other seats.” Page 656. To those still doubting I was Present at the Creation, belat kayo lahat. But, As Cory, Jr. I could not move freely as I wished. JPE, I was told, would not touch our food in our Cabinet meets. Poison concern?
The book affirms that he was behind forming ACCRA (Page 350) which he would deny at the time, if my memory is true. Ed Angara asked me at Manila Hotel during a Con-Con lunch break to join it; I declined. I dimly recall JPE suing a mag for mentioning the JPE-ACCRA link in he 80’s. In 1972 an ACCRA partner showed me around the ACCRA office in a Philbanking Bldg. on Ayala and pointed to JPE’s room. Another terminological inexactitude?
Another sizzling topic. Did the cybercrime law (R.A. No. 10175) change the notion of libel?
The penalty therefor was upped by R.A. No. 10175 but the Supreme Court (SC) has been liberal in acquittals and in imposing libel penalties, only a fine in the last decade given more-speech-not-less culture. But, no one should libel whatever the medium; the SC is there to temper. Trial courts may reflect the local power situation. A severe penalty can be nullified as impermissible under the substantive due process and equal protection clauses in a case filed by an actually prejudiced person in a real, not hypothetical, case; particularly so where the media is concerned. The SC strokes and massages the press.
Can Sen. TG Guingona, crying Uncle! make sumbong to the SC after he failed to convince his colleagues? I question too whether a Senator can violate the Consti by being a party. Lawyers-lawmakers are not supposed to appear in courts. What about non-lawyers? May both be circumventive? I prefer the prudential approach of Sen. Chiz Escudero, Sen. Allan Cayetano and Rep. Sonny Angara. They will work to amend and not have the SC do the dirty job. What TG is doing it to show up the executive and legislative branches as constitutional innocents. Given the trio’s initiative the SC should show judicial restraint: give Congress time to “correct” its work. I admire the courage of any Senator going to the SC asserting that close to 300 lawmakers abetted by PNoy’s legal team—do not know the Consti. Is TG the proper party, a lawmaker who lost in the Senate voting? And there is no actual case or controversy involving anyone personally on which he seeks an SC veto via an advisory opinion. Solons may differ but the Cabinet must speak with a single voice.
The Revised Penal Code penalizes libel by six months and one day to four years and two months and a fine ranging from P200 to P6,000, or both, in addition to the victim’s civil suit for damages. Courts may impose a fine, or imprisonment, or both, and award crippling damages.
We redeem valuable human material and prevent unnecessary deprivation of personal liberty and economic usefulness with due regard to the the social order. Buatis v. People, 485 SCRA 275, 291 (2006)(libel). In Sazon v. CA, 255 SCRA 692, 703 (1996) (libel) the SC ruled that “ the decision of the Court of Appeals is hereby AFFIRMED with the modification that, in lieu of imprisonment and fine, the penalty . . . shall be a fine of [3,000].” Better than having the SC shame the other branches, and immunize those saying what they think of Justices and their ancestors. To doubt is to sustain – Malcolm. The elected can cure the defects. Anyone calling a Justice a rapist online will be out of line and cannot be insulated from suit. But, the Right thing must be done by the Right party at the Right Time in the Right Way and for the Right reason. My Five R’s.