Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Malaysians are right to protest the recent amendments that the government made to the Evidence Act of 1950. Although they deal specifically with the internet, the amendments could have wider implications on media freedom, democracy, and human rights.

Section 114A of the bill seeks “to provide for the presumption of fact in publication in order to facilitate the identification and proving of the identity of an anonymous person involved in publication through the internet.” In other words, the section makes it easier for law enforcement authorities to trace the person who has uploaded or published material posted online.

According to the amended law, however, the originators of the content are those who own, administer, and/or edit websites, blogs, and online forums. Also included in the amendment are persons who offer webhosting services or internet access. And lastly, the owner of the computer or mobile device used to publish content online is also covered under section 114A.

This means that a blogger or forum moderator who allows seditious comments on his or her site can be held liable under the law. An internet café manager is accountable if one of his or her customers sends illegal content online through the store’s WiFi network. A mobile phone owner is the perpetrator if defamatory content is traced back to his or her electronic device.

Critics of the amendment contend that under section 114A, a person is considered guilty until proven innocent. Their fear is not entirely baseless. Indeed, the Thai government has used a similar law to prosecute a blog moderator for an allegedly seditious comment which she approved to be posted on her website.

The Malayisn government has rejected these criticisms with one cabinet member calling some of the objections “childish.”

The Centre for Independent Journalism was quick to denounce the provisions of the bill which went into effect at the end of last month. It warned that “internet users may resort to self-censorship to avoid false accusations made under Section 114A. Bloggers, for example, may excessively censor comments made by their readers. As a result, Section 114A inadvertently stifles public discussion about pertinent political or social issues and protects public authorities, such as the State, from public scrutiny.”

Internet users signed a petition opposing the amendments and lectured the government about the importance of allowing online anonymity to protect the identities of human rights and democracy advocates. But the amendments, according to the petition, “reduce the opportunity to be anonymous online which is crucial in promoting a free and open Internet. Anonymity is also indispensable to protect whistleblowers from persecution by the authorities when they expose abuses of power.”

When the petition was ignored by the government, netizens and media groups organized an online blackout on August 14, which succeeded in mobilizing thousands of internet users. The global attention which the action generated was likely what convinced the Prime Minister to agree to have the cabinet review the controversial amendments. Although this announcement was initially welcomed by opponents of the amendments, the Cabinet ultimately upheld the amended law.

The amendments are supposed to empower authorities to prosecute people publishing seditious, libelous, and harmful content on the internet. But it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to envision how these same authorities could abuse the law to restrict media freedom, violate the privacy of individuals, and curtail the human rights of ordinary internet users.

written for The Diplomat

Sotto’s Plagiarism Scandal

When Philippine Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III delivered a speech last month about the dangers of artificial contraceptives, he did not expect he would become embroiled in a heated and acrimonious debate about the sins of plagiarism, and not about his opposition to the Reproductive Health bill.

Sotto prepared a three-part speech aimed at convincing his colleagues and the public at large about the allegedly immoral and unconstitutional provisions of the controversial measure. But to Sotto’s dismay, no sooner had he finished his first presentation than he was accused of plagiarizing an American blogger. Sotto’s first reaction was to deny the charge, but his staff later admitted that some parts of the speech were indeed copied from a blog, but supposedly only for reference.

Sotto dismissed the plagiarism issue as something concocted by critics who couldn’t refute his arguments against the use of artificial contraceptives. He even complained of being the first senator to be cyber-bullied because of his commitment to block the passage of the Reproductive Health legislation.

But if the plagiarism issue elicited intense response from both old and new media, Sotto can only blame himself, his chief-of-staff, and even the Senate President, the latter of whom made ludicrous statements about the meaning of plagiarism.

According to news reports, Sotto said he can’t be held liable for plagiarism because it only applies “if you contend that the contents are yours… whether you give attribution or not.” Citing the opinion of Atty. Louie Andrew C. Calvario of the country’s Intellectual Property Office, Sotto even reminded his accusers that plagiarism is not a crime in the Philippines: “The crime of plagiarism is not defined in our laws, particularly the Intellectual Property Code and the Revised Penal Code. Neither can it be characterized as copyright infringement since it did not economically injure the author.”

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, a legal luminary in his own right, defended Sotto from the plagiarism charge. “He did not deny that the speech was a product of research. Meaning, there was attribution,” Enrile said in an interview. “Is there an idea in this world that was not copied from others? Once you release an idea to the public, unless you copyright it, it can be used,” he added in the same news report.

Meanwhile, Sotto’s chief-of-staff referred to the dissemination of the bible to justify the legislator’s actions, when he reportedly stated, “the Bible reached us today because the monks copied from the Greeks. Everything really started from a little copying. Even our image was copied from God. We are all plagiarists.”

He also said that the Philippines copied the United States Constitution. “We plagiarized the U.S. Constitution… but do they call us a plagiaristic country? No, because the law is based on precedent,” the chief-of-staff said in an interview. He added that “a blog is meant to be shared and we shared it.”

Sotto’s misfortune of being called a plagiarist continued this week when he was accused of plagiarizing Senator Robert F. Kennedy after it was exposed that the concluding part of one of Sotto’s speech was a direct Filipino translation of a speech made by Kennedy in 1966. Sotto has denied the accusation again.

This is not the first time that a high ranking Philippines official was involved in a plagiarism scandal. A member of the Supreme Court is facing impeachment after being accused of plagiarism.

The tragedy in Sotto’s case is that the issue could have quickly died down if he only apologized immediately to the offended blogger. But the senator could not be persuaded to admit his lapses, which is why everybody is talking and laughing about his plagiarism woes instead of his pro-life advocacy.

written for The Diplomat

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