One Step Forward: Filipino Women Protest against the New Anti-Cybercrime Law

Young women activists are posting their comments on the "freedom wall" during  a protest action in Manila.

The women’s movement in the Philippines, along with social movements that have been actively campaigning to repeal the new anti-cybercrime law, has moved one step forward as just a few hours after the Black Tuesday protest last October 9, Supreme Court justices, in an en banc session, unanimously decided to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the implementation of the law. When women unite against injustice, government has no other option but to concede.

JASS women in the Philippines are actively taking part in this series of protests. The Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB), a JASS partner organization, has prepared a petition letter to “delete, undo, retrieve” the new law, particularly its cybersex provision. On the other hand, GABRIELA, Center for Women’s Resources (CWR), and SAMAKANA, together with other community-based organizations, trooped to the Supreme Court (last October 9) to demand for the repeal of the new law, as they believe that the law spells repression. For these organizations, it is the return of martial law, as they cry, “No to CyberMartial Law!”  Martial law, which has been imposed during the dictatorial regime of Marcos in the 1970s till the early 1980s, is being felt by activists as stepping up again through this anti-cybercrime law. Ironically, this repressive law has been signed by the son of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, one of the victims of martial rule, the incumbent President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Even prior to the filing of a court case for online libel, the Department of Justice (DOJ) can declare that there is prima facie evidence of libel in any online information, comment, or video, and can bar access to the site or cause the removal of the offending material...This also makes ordinary Internet users, Facebook users for example, to get slapped with online libel cases just by posting comments or by uploading pictures deemed libelous.

This new law, the Republic Act 10175, is dubbed by feminists and activists as a landmark law that leads to the curtailment of the freedom of expression in the Internet. Women’s issues are being used as excuse to implement this law.

“Women’s rights will be on the line when this anti-cybercrime law’s provisions are enforced. This new law is operating under the guise of curbing cybersex and protecting women victims of cyber crimes such as pornography, but it has dangerous provisions such as the criminalization of libel on the Internet,” cries Rhoda Manglalan of CWR and active in the JASS network in the Philippines, who took part in the protest action.

Dozens of groups, women’s organizations included, have already filed petitions to repeal the new law. An earlier version of the Black Tuesday protest was launched last October 2, wherein many Internet users responded to the campaign by taking down their pictures on Facebook, and using black prints as profile pictures as a sign of cyber protest.

One of the contested provisions of this law is online libel. Even prior to the filing of a court case for online libel, the Department of Justice (DOJ) can declare that there is prima facie evidence of libel in any online information, comment, or video, and can bar access to the site or cause the removal of the offending material. This provision, as one Filipino journalist said, in effect gives the DOJ the power of judge, jury and executioner. This also makes ordinary Internet users, Facebook users for example, to get slapped with online libel cases just by posting comments or by uploading pictures deemed libelous.

The Filipino sense of humor was in full force as dozens of caricature regarding the anti-cybercrime law was circulated. In one picture, a woman was asking three prisoners behind bars, “What are you in for?” To which the prisoners replied: “I just uploaded a picture.”  “I just commented on a picture.”  “I just ‘liked’ a picture.”

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, threats to Internet freedom are intensifying as cyber crime bills and other restrictive policies are being proposed and enforced. In Vietnam, bloggers are being imprisoned. In Cambodia, a cyber crime bill is being drafted while policies requiring Internet cafés to install surveillance cameras are already being implemented.  In Malaysia, the Section 114A amendment is already in effect which also sparked dissent from various civil society organizations.

Different forms of protests will hound the government until the law is repealed, protesters warn. The coming days will see a growing unrest among netizens, freedom-lovers, women activists and feminists in the region.  And JASS women will be part of these struggles.

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