Lawyers warn of 'iron mask' in 'terror' law

A lawyers’ organization on Tuesday opposed the proposal made by new Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay that the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 should govern regulation of netizen’s social media posts.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia objected to Gapay's recommendation , saying it is like an “iron mask” that would "suffocate" the people because it would curtail their fundamental rights.

Gapay had recommended to use the anti-terrorism law and its IRR to monitor posts on social media, which he said are being used by terrorists to radicalize the youth and to recruit and plan terrorist acts.

“It is against basic constitutional and international law principles, let alone common sense… It is an open assault on free expression that is key to democracy, good governance and public participation. In short, it is an iron mask that covers all our senses to suffocation including our basic common sense,” Olalia said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon also branded Gapay's proposal as illegal and unconstitutional.

“That will go beyond the real intent of the law and, therefore, it is illegal and unconstitutional. Freedom of speech is a sacred and inviolable right of every human being. The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech,” Drilon stressed.

Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon frowned on the AFP chief's proposal, and said the desire to regulate social media goes against the legislative intent of the Anti-Terrorism Law.

"There is no provision in the law which provides for the authority to regulate social media, precisely because it is not the intention of the legislators to cross the line of protecting freedom of expression and right to privacy," said Biazon.

The NUPL said General Gapay’s proposal is similar to the fictional character “Big Brother” in the “1984” novel of English novelist George Orwell that pertains to the State monitoring the people’s every move.

“That is straight from Big Brother redux. It is precisely brazen ideas like these overreach intrusions that create the chilling effect which the proponents of the Terror Law keep on spluttering in our faces,” Olalia noted.

He also believed that the real terrorists would not use the open social media or socmed sites for its recruitment operations. Instead, it would be used by the government’s “fishing expedition” to look for people who are expressing their legitimate dissent and criticism.

“It is absurd that the real terrorists will use open and public socmed platforms to ‘radicalize and recruit the youth’. Such fishing expeditions are actually on the lookout for legitimate dissent, criticism and alternative views and opinions that those in power do not like, approve or agree with,” Olalia said.

The military is one the agencies consulted in drafting the ATA’s IRR since it is at the forefront in combatting terrorism in the country.

The AFP chief also suggested the enhancement of intelligence-sharing between domestic and international counterparts; strengthen maritime security since some foreign terrorists slip into the country using the porous backdoor; and the regulation of materials used in making improvised explosive devices (IEDs) including agricultural products, among others.

Drilon said social media is an effective platform "for our people to voice out their criticisms against the government."

“If we insist on implementing the law this way, which is clearly contrary to legislative intent, then we justify the fears aired by the people against the passage of the law,” he said.

“Let us not be so imprudent as to prove to the people that they are right in their distrust of the law’s implementors,” added Drilon.

The idea of regulating social media was already discussed in the many technical working group meetings and committee hearings in the House of Representatives, and the proposals to include them in the law were not considered, Biazon added.

"To include in the anti-terrorism law's IRR the provisions to regulate social media would be a contradiction to the intention of the framers of the law who had already purposely left it out, as well as a circumvention of the rule that the IRR should not go beyond what is provided by the letter of the law," he said.

"The members of the committee formulating the IRR should be mindful of this matter and be guided accordingly," Biazon added.

Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite shared Biazon's opposition to Gapay's proposal, calling it "cyber martial law."

"We have already seen the National Bureau of Investigation harass netizens who are critical of the government's policies particulary in its pandemic response. We've seen several arrests under the so-called "Cyber Tokhang," Gaite said.

Topics: Armed Forces of the Philippines , Gilbert Gapay , implementing rules and regulations , Franklin Drilon , Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 , National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
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