The freedom of speech is a right that is often taken for granted. People in the Philippines are being silenced for standing up to their government. The freedom of speech in the Philippines has been eroding since 2012, and activist groups are speaking out(Manila Standard). Since 2012, journalist have been arrested and killed for their online opposition to the Philippine government and its officials. Only now, it is gaining more media attention because of efforts from people like Maria Ressa and her staff.
The Beginnings of Cyber Libel Incrimination:
The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, signed under the Benigno Aquino III administration, is a law within the Philippines in order to address cyber crimes committed on the internet (Manila Standard). The law was intended to incriminate those who participate in cybersquatting, cybersex, child pornograph, and identify theft to name a few (PHGOV). What begun as a way to prevent such crimes, the act was turned into a way to incriminate those who express sentiments against the Philippine government.
Under the Presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, first elected in 2016, more journalists within the Philippines have been targeted for their online statements and charged with cyber libel against his government (Ndvlaw). In order to be charged with cyber libel, the statement bust be public, malicious, directed at government personeel (dead or alive) or cause discreditation to the person defamed (Ndvlaw). These characteristics of the CPA are what strip the citizens of the Philippines of their freedom of speech.
Current State of Filippino Freedom of Speech:
More currently, activist groups are forming against cyber libel, especially journalists. Maria Ressa is a famous journalist in the Philippines who is globally known for standing against President Duterte’s impeding threats on free speech and freedom of the press (NPR). Ressa has delt with lawsuits from the current administration, pro-Duterte troll attacks, and expulsion from the presidential palace (NPR). As of June 2020, Ressa and another one of her writers, Reynaldo Santos Jr., were arrested and imprisoned for up to six years for their so called libel crimes (Human Rights Watch).
The people of the Philippines’ right to speak against the government indicates the slow but serious decline of their democracy, similar to other countries to the their west in Europe. In a policy brief written by Claudio Ferraz and Frederico Finan, unlike the people of the Philippines, countries like Brazil and the United States have been able to expose corrupt politicians and vote them out of office (Ferraz and Finan, page 3). But, with cyber libel an incriminating offence, many people have failed at standing up to this law and to the corrupt politicians who enforce it. Filipinos do not have the right to signify their negative sentiments towards their government which Robert Dahl would see as a sign as an eroding democracy.
So, where do Filipinos go from here?
Clearly argued in a journal written by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, nonviolent movements tend to produce a more successful turnout than those of violence (Chenoweth and Stephan, page 5). For example, when Marcos declared himself the winner of the 1986 Filipino elections, Cory Aquino led a nonviolent rally to proclaim victory for herself (Chenoweth and Stephan, page 5). The nonviolent conquest included a boycott of the state media and certain businesses, general strikes, and other activities that did not promote violence. In result, Aquino’s nonviolent campaign lead to the removal of the Marcos dictatorship where violent insurgency failed to do so (Chenoweth and Stephan, page 5). These are the efforts that will eventually bring back the freedom of speech to the Filipino people.
With hopeful efforts from Ressa, student groups are forming in order to speak out against past and present government officials of the Philippines. Just recently on November 17th, students from Ateneo de Manila University held a demonstration (The Diplomat). Students held signs degrading the former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in front of Manila’s Cemetery of Heroes in order to dodge the bullet of online cyber libel charges. (The Diplomat). Because of these strikes and protest gatherings, scholarships are being stripped from participating students, and undecided participants are threated with the same fate if they join the movement (The Diplomat). These blatant attacks on the freedom of speech of Filipino students is clear and imminent danger to the democracy the country weakly upholds.
Students across the country are calling upon each other to ban together in protest against the Philipine authority especially regarding COVID-19. To many, the current administration has not accurately and efficiently handled the pandemic, and because of this, many students are hit the hardest. Many students do not have access to internet, opportunities for guided instruction, or the availability of educational devices (The Diplomat). This is what students are currently calling on each other to combat. If these voices cannot be freely said online, they can surely be said on a poster at a protest.
For More Information:
I also wrote about the Philippines, and I agree that protests will likely be helpful for addressing both Ressa but also the Cybercrime Law. However, I did want to point out that COVID-19 limiting protests will pose a serious threat to the ability for college students to host these protests. Additionally, it my research I had found that Duterte is utilizing the COVID crisis to secure funds for him and the executive branch to use freely. As such, I think that students might not have enough time to both wait out COVID and then protest; Duterte might be able to continue heralding in oppressive laws with little to no backlash since people are scared of protesting. Ressa’s other crimes might result in guilty charges as well; in general, I’m also quite concerned about the Philippines.
I really enjoyed reading your take on the situation in the Philippines. I think it was really interesting to hear about this issue primarily from the perspective of the students. As students writing and reading these blogs, it makes your argument so much more impactful that we can relate and try to place ourselves in the shoes of the people you discuss in your blog post. I also think a very important part of your article is when you talk about how if people cannot criticize the government and government officials it makes it even more of a challenge to attempt to vote them out of office. You referred to Dahl’s analysis of this and how this is a key marker of an eroding democracy. It is essential to have an informed society, and news outlets and media that have the freedom to inform and report on the corruption of their representatives. Because I have not looked into this myself I am a little confused about the beginning of the article where you mention the new restrictions come from a law to “incriminate those who participate in cybersquatting, cybersex, child pornography, and identify theft”, but I am unsure as to how this law shifted purposes. Was there an addition? What wording allowed them to broaden the scope to apply it towards defamation and libel against public officials and the government. I think a little additional clarification here could have strengthened this post. Overall, thank you for writing a post on this topic and teaching me more about the situation in the Philippines.
This was a fascinating read into democratic erosion in the Philippines.
It’s interesting to consider other facets of democratic erosion that are more resistant to traditional tactics of protest or strike, especially when modern authoritarian methods are more minute and refined in their nature and execution. Limiting students’ access to education, in forms of denying scholarships or internet access, is a significant barrier for citizens to signify their preferences in a healthy democracy. Though this tactic may be overlooked or hard to recognize, it is extremely dangerous to the wellbeing of democratic nations. Denying access to education hallmarks the erosion of democratic ideals that grant open access to knowledge and information. Additionally, the relevancy of students as insurgency groups in the nation makes them important political actors who rely on the internet and social media to convey their message. Journalists, activists, and other insurgents are also entitled to their freedom of speech and deserve protection from petty crime charges when voicing their opinions. The government should not persecute its own citizens for expressing political dissent. Corrupt politicians further the stronghold of the cyber libel law, perpetuating a cycle of systematic abuse.
A few questions that arose in relation to the article were: what was the response of the international community in reaction to the increased censorship, if any? Have there been any lawsuits contesting the constitutionality of these laws? Lastly, how has COVID-19 impacted the situation? I imagine student groups find themselves limited in their ability to organize and protest in the midst of a pandemic. Additionally, students must suffer from a myriad of financial and educational hassles due to restricted funding and poor government practices. The pandemic only heightens the need for accessible, safe ways for people to voice their political preferences without risking their lives.
Hi Savannah, I really enjoyed reading your article and wrote about the Philippines, as well. Given the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) policy to slow the spread of Covid-19 in the Philippines, it will be interesting to see how students and activists respond using non-violent means – perhaps taking to the internet more often than would be the case – to relay their dissatisfaction with the state of democracy in the country, particularly against journalists. However, I also wanted to re-acknowledge your point about internet access, and the lack thereof facing students in the Philippines, and how this might impact the non-violent methods you’ve mentioned in your piece. Duterte’s rhetoric has only sharpened the outcry of his opponents in the media and elsewhere, and his allies in Congress and the Judiciary are not backing down in their unwavering loyalty to his stances. Fighting violence with non-violence is always a heroic feat, nonetheless, and the next two years of Duterte’s presidency will be crucial in understanding how stretched the levels of democratic erosion will be by the next presidential election in 2022.