MANILA, PHILIPPINES | With the military recently identifying nearly 80 social media accounts allegedly being used by terrorists, and moving to have these taken down, a lawyer and civil society groups weighed in Wednesday on the legality and implications of such a move.
It noted that the development has expanded the physical limits of martial law beyond Mindanao, which was covered by Proclamation 216 issued hours after the siege of Marawi began.
In a message to InterAksyon, Atty. Marnie Tonson, founding co-convenor of the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA), agreed that when it comes to social media, “Martial Law definitely has no borders.” He added, “(this is) the main reason given by legislators and justices [on] why the Cybercrime Prevention Act (Republic Act 10175) was legislated and later upheld. [It] is precisely the pernicious reach of online media.”
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), in several statements in the past, implied that they have added the realm of cyberspace as a new Philippine territory to be defended in addition to the land territory, airspace and waters.
For its part, the Department of Information Communication and Technology (DICT), headed by Atty. Rodolfo Salima, had said in a Palace briefing Tuesday that it was poised to file the first “cyber sedition” charge against a group hosting a pro-terrorist site.
Salalima, however, did not confirm if those targeted for arrest are among those holding 63 Facebook accounts that AFP had earlier Facebook Philippines to take down for “poisoning” the minds of Filipinos.
‘Cyber sedition a misnomer’
But what defines cyber sedition?
In a column posted on June 15 on Newsbytes.ph, Atty. Tonson said: “Technically, ‘Cyber sedition’ is a misnomer. This much can be gleaned from the quick clarification Secretary Rodolfo Salalima of the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) made upon his announcement earlier this week of an imminent arrest for ‘Cyber sedition’”.
Tonson further noted, “Rebellion, Sedition are crimes under the Penal Code… (Y)ou do sedition, you incite people via cyber or via the Internet, there is Cyber-Rebellion, there is Cyber sedition.”
According to Tonson, The Cybercrime Prevention Act (Republic Act 10175) under Section 6 punishes all crimes defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code (RPC) “committed by, through and with the use of information and communications technologies.”
The RPC, Tonson added, does indeed define the felony known as “Sedition” in Article 139. But “Cyber sedition” cannot be based on this “basic” sedition simply because modern technology does not yet allow persons to “rise tumultuously” in cyberspace.
Misnomer or not, civil society groups such as TXTPower, Agham, and the Computer Professionals Union have taken notice nonetheless of the term Cyber-sedition.
In a joint statement sent to media the three organizations said, “It must be clear by now: Whether you’re in Marawi, Mindanao or Manila, we’re all unsafe from martial law’s effects on our basic rights. And nowhere is this more obvious than the internet and the basic rights we enjoy online and offline.”
The groups added: “These threats by the military and DICT don’t strike fear at the heart of terrorists. They dampen civic engagement and attempt to negate the public’s right and duty to see to it that martial law is required, that martial law is actually aimed at the terrorists, and that martial law is not being implemented against the public.”
In its last statement, the AFP declined to give further details on the 80 accounts, saying this might jeopardize efforts to collar the parties involved.
The AFP had earlier appealed to netizens to stop sharing content from the sites in order to prevent being used for the propaganda campaigns of the terrorists, particularly those aligned or seeking recognition or funding from the Islamic State of Iraq and syria (ISIS).
“It only solves the closing of the account. The individuals behind those accounts are the more important target of our operation,” said Philippines spokesperson BGen. Restituto Padilla Padilla.
How to make distinction?
However, Tonyo Cruz, TXTPower president and newspaper columnist, said in a message to InterAksyon: “We are curious what the DICT and the AFP mean by cyber-sedition and who are allegedly committing them.”
“It would be a fatal and terrible mistake for the DICT and AFP to even imply legitimate criticisms of the martial law proclamation are cyber sedition. In fact, they should encourage people to get on with their lives and not make terrorism and counterterrorism adversely change our way of life,” Cruz added.