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.
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