The arrest of a 62-year old anti-mining activist in the Philippines for a Facebook post spawned fears of a clampdown on dissenters through the recently enacted anti-cybercrime legislation.
Critics of the cybercrime legislation won a tactical victory when the Philippine Supreme Court issued a 120-day Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the law as it deliberates on at least 15 petitions calling for the junking of the law.
However, they claim that the case of Esperlita “Perling” Garcia is a preview of how the law could be used to suppress the people's freedom of expression and right to expose and criticize government abuses online.
Garcia is President of the Gonzaga Alliance for Environmental Protection and Preservation which is opposed to magnetite mining operations in Gonzaga town in Cagayan Province. The Cagayan provincial government authorized mining by Chinese and Taiwanese corporations in the area.
Gonzaga Mayor Carlito Pentecostes Jr. charged Garcia with libel for a Facebook note posted last April 2011. The note condemned Pentecostes for harassing community leaders planning an anti-mining demonstration.
Environmentalists and internet freedom advocates has setup the “Cyber-Perling” Facebook page to draw attention to Garcia's plight. The page has gathered more than 800 likes as of this writing.
A factsheet on her October 18 arrest can be read on the said page. ‘Cyber-Perling’ was released on bail last October 19 after a day in detention.
Activist youth group Anakbayan warned that the incident is a strong indication of an impending E-Martial Law once the cybercrime law becomes effective:
“This is a preview of what to expect once the TRO lapses: the Cybercrime Law will be unleashed by the Aquino regime against its countless critics and opponents” said Vencer Crisostomo, national chairperson of Anakbayan.
He said it was not surprising that an anti-mining activist is the first victim of ‘e-Martial Law’, considering the intensifying resistance nationwide against foreign, large-scale, destructive mining operations, and President Noynoy Aquino’s bias in favor of those.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, however, insisted that the arrest did not in any way arise from the Cybercrime Prevention Act:
This is not a Cybercrime case. This is a case of libel filed. In fact, if you notice, the bail posted was P10,000. The penalty for online libel is prision mayor, which is higher than the penalty imposed under the Revised Penal Code. Obviously, this is a case filed under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. So this is not a case of e-libel.
The youth activists answered Lacierda by pointing out that Facebook, blogs, and social networking sites are not included in the Revised Penal Code, which limits libel to printed and broadcasted materials.
Lacierda has now morphed into an e-Martial Law spokesman who is also lawyering for those who want to stifle internet freedom and free speech. He knows very well that libel under the law currently only applies to print and TV, making the case vs Perlie baseless, and yet he twists and spins to justify repressive and fascist acts.
They reiterated that it is “a preview of how rights will be curtailed once the Cybercrime Law is passed.” Lawyers also reaffirmed this observation. Atty. JJ Disini points out in a Facebook post:
“Well, someone should tell Atty. Lacierda the fact that this is not even a proper case of libel because public officials, as a rule, are not allowed to sue for criminal libel. This is clear from the landmark [United States Supreme Court] case of New York Times v. Sullivan cited with approval by our Supreme Court in the recent case [decided in 2005] of Guingging v. Court of Appeals.”
PITIK-B(u)LOG said the case is a wakeup call for everyone to take action against the cybercrime law.
Ilang ESPERLITA GARCIA pa ba ang dapat hulihin para maniwala ang sambayanan na ang R.A. 10175 ay inilalagay sa panganib ang ating freedom of expression? Kailan natin maiintindihan na sa ating pagsasawalang-kibo ay unti-unti rin nating kinakatay ang ating mga karapatang pangtao? Hindi lang ang R.A. 10175 ang dapat sisihin sa pagkitil sa ating freedom of speech, kasama na dito ang mga taong nagkibit ng balikat at nagsawalang-kibo. Apathy kills.
How many more Esperilta Garcia should be arrested before the people believe that R.A. 10175 will put our freedom of expression in danger? When will we understand that our indifference is slowly killing our human rights? R.A. 10175 is not the only thing that should be blamed for the curtailment of our freedom of speech, alongside this are the people who stay on the sidelines and do not care. Apathy kills.