Lately, there have been calls from the part of prominent officials for those who oppose the dreadful RA 10175, also known as the “Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, to post dissenting views at the “proper forum”. Here is an excerpt of a Sun Star Manila article that mentions “proper forum”:
But presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Thursday that these hackers are not getting any sympathy from what they are doing and it would be better if they raise their concerns to the proper venue such as the court.
“Well it won’t win them brownie points if that’s what they are doing. I think the better venue for them is to really show their protests in a proper forum rather than hacking a government website or government websites,” he said.
Lacierda said the Palace respects the rights of the individuals and groups who have filed petitions before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the new law.
Try searching for “proper forum” Philippines on Google and see the results. “Proper forum” can easily turn into a cliche if the continuous use of the terms in the media continues.
Is the Supreme Court a Good Enough Forum?
Let us explore further. How did the Palace officials define “proper forum” Indeed, they did not state a precise definition of such, and they trust us to know what it is. We can state, provisionally, that one such forum is the Supreme Court, where seven petitions have been filed already against the delicate sections of RA 10175. Such sections are sections 4 to 7, concerned with the libel clause and other similar acts, and the notorious section 19, which says: “When a computer data is prima facie found to be in violation of the provisions of this Act, the DOJ shall issue an order to restrict or block access to such computer data.”
The Palace seems to be proud of those developments. Abigail Valte, the deputy presidential spokesperson, was quoted here: “Like we have always said, there are legitimate avenues in expressing dissent.” Her definition of “legitimate avenues” counts the Supreme Court; with that,, I wish the petitioners lots of good fortune in their dealings.
The question now is: What is a proper forum, anyway?
We can count the Supreme Court as one such forum, but being a blog-hopper and a forum-hopper for years already, I know that in a forum, even if there are rules meant to preserve order and make interactions fruitful, anyone can see others post views and respond to them. At the Supreme Court, only the petitioners and their counsel know the status of their Court petitions, and very little is known about the discussions of the Supreme Court regarding the requests. Who knows what Ma. Lourdes Sereno and the other justices are thinking? In a forum, whenever you express something, it becomes transparent, and others will know about it and even speculate about your thought processes.
Thus the Supreme Court fails to have the spirit of a forum as I know it because there is no substantive interaction with the stakeholders (the Internet-using public) of the issue. It’s only between the petitioners, the justices, and the middling staff. It is no fault of the Supreme Court, though; it is simply a limitation. After all, the justices are leading busy lives, although it would be immensely better if they make their views public in a language that the cyber-public can easily understand, and far much better if the public responds intelligently and confidently. (But that takes practice, and the Supreme Court may better take the lead in enlightenment here and push the public to follow.)
Add-on: On October 2, the public will come to the Supreme Court and give it the soul of the forum. Here is the announcement:
What about Anonymous Philippines, the hacktivist group that methodically defaced many government websites? Are they airing their views in the “proper forum”?
Clearly, government websites don’t really qualify as proper forums; after all, only the current agendas of the people running the sites are mentioned there. However, the Internet is itself one big forum; everything significant anyone does there is sure to be revealed by the inquisitive. People now know that government websites are being mutilated in protest against the oppressive law, and everyone knew well, to the extent that even the Palace had to respond. (Anonymous declared that it’s going to launch more attacks if the law isn’t pulled down or at least molded to sense.)
We have here the minimal elements of a forum in the true sense – a point of view (the Anonymous’ belief that the cybercrime law is bunk and “cunningly deceptive”), a means of expression (defacement of government sites), and responses (from concerned netizens to Palace officials). Call it a patched-up forum, or a forum definition that’s forcibly applied, but I’d rather call that a proper forum than call the Supreme Court as such, or Senate and Congress, or a staff meeting where the machinations of the boss bureaucrat goes unchecked.
A Greater Plea
If only our officials find out what’s going on in the minds of the people, then they will know more about how to improve their laws. If only our officials took the time to explore any of the numerous forums for Filipinos, then they will learn more about how the cybercrime law will affect the ordinary netfolk and they will adjust in return, unless they have some vested interests at the backs of their heads. They can just come to forums and blogs where heated but purposeful discussions can happen. I will consider some blogs as forums as long as there is active and strident, sometimes flaring, commenting taking place. Shielding oneself from the world, which can be positively correlated with snobbishness and partly due to insincerity, is a recipe for laws that are vexatious on paper and troublesome on application.
Now we’re noticing vibrant Internet discussions from various sectors regarding the cybercrime law. Such is the flow of untapped insights of the Philippine population of Internet users. Although there are plenty of inane views expressed in Philippine cyberspace, at least the prospect of “chit-chat” about the law is bringing out some reserved but thoughtful souls into the forefront. According to University of Michigan sociologist Scott Page, a necessary condition for discussions to yield remarkable accurate views is that the participants are smart enough (though not necessarily savants) and the views expressed be as diverse as possible. I believe that the cybercrime law will reduce the diversity of such views, thus making the Internet crowd prone to correlated mistakes (because of fear) and also prone to a vicious roundabout of more and more mistakes.
Clearly, the law has already blasted in the international forum. A Yahoo! News article states: “Even before the Cybercrime law was passed… the UN Human Rights Committee had already called on the Philippines to decriminalize libel.” The UNHCR has already made its case; paying no heed to it will result to the substandard treatment of the government of its citizens when it comes to free speech. Right now, the Human Rights Watch, based on New York, has pitched in this warning: “When citizens face prison time for complaining about official performance, corruption, or abusive business practices, other people take notice and are less likely to draw attention to such problems themselves, undermining effective governance and civil society.”
When Filipino journalist Alexander Adonis got imprisoned because of libel last 2007, there came UNHCR’s calls for the Philippine government to remove libel from the list of criminal offenses. Hardly anyone above there listened. Did that mean that we’re a signatory on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights just on paper but not on spirit?
Finale, Including the Naked Emperor Test
The most proper forum is the world itself; if you want something close to home, the country can be next best. If you want to bring about a country that is a proper forum in the true sense of the term, then go talk to the people about their problems or at least do your intensive research while looking at people’s concerns with lens of purity, instead of bamboozling them with slogans that make them impatient with complete sentences with complete thoughts. Talk to the voting public (or at least to those willing to talk) about substantive issues related to the economy and culture, instead of hiding behind a wall of college degrees and connections while thinking that you’ve got everything figured out.
There’s the Internet anyway, where anyone can talk unless silenced out of fear that one’s going to unintentionally say something of bad taste, though that may be the truth. Here’s the naked emperor test in determining whether a free speech law is oppressive on its application even if it looks innocuous: “With that law, will I be able to say that the emperor is naked, in any medium, and allow it to be read by others, if the emperor is indeed naked? Will I be able to say similar statements with ease?”
And here’s a pithy saw, for those who persevered all the way to the end: Think before you squeak, or your squeak will bite back at you.