Mong Palatino

Blogging about the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific since 2004


@mongster is a Manila-based activist, former Philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of Asia-Pacific affairs.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

As Terror Law takes effect, senators are setting a dangerous precedent in suppressing free speech

Bong Go filing a case against a student for sharing ‘libelous’ posts on social media. Ping Lacson accusing critics of the Terror Law of spreading disinformation. And Senate President Tito Sotto prioritizing the passage of a bill criminalizing ‘fake news’.

Senators are on a rampage in suppressing free speech on the eve of the enforcement of the draconian Terror Law.

After the rejection of the ABS-CBN franchise, Bato dela Rosa advised employees of the TV and radio broadcaster to look for other jobs, which not only smacks of insensitivity but also proved his failure to see the Congress decision as an attack on press freedom.

Sotto’s announcement that his proposed Anti-False Content Act (SBN 9) is among his priority bills is worrisome. Criminalizing ‘fake news’ will undermine free expression. We saw how the anti-fake news provision in the Bayanihan Law was used to run after critics of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

We fear that Sotto’s bill, if passed into law, will be misused and abused by politicians to silence legitimate criticism.

Look how Bong Go used his position to appeal for NBI’s help in chasing after social media critics. Bong Go’s press statement claimed that he was only trying to stop the sharing of ‘fake news’ content. This is problematic since authorities can arbitrarily designate any comment as ‘fake news’ and use existing repressive laws and Sotto’s law in the future to charge ordinary netizens and create a chilling effect in society.

Lacson arrogantly dismissed critics of the Terror Law and accused the opposition of spreading disinformation. He not only insulted the intelligence of the vigilant public but also demonstrated how politicians like him are unwilling to listen to contrary views.

It seems many senators are infected with the virus of intolerance because they continue to be remorseless in enacting repressive laws like the Terror Law. Sotto’s bill will be another instrument that can be weaponized by paranoid politicians to punish citizens demanding accountability from the government.

Our advice to Sotto: Counter fake news with accurate information. Promote media literacy, instead of penalizing internet users.

To Bong Go, focus on legislation instead of being vindictive to social media users.

To Lacson, stop peddling lies about the content and intent of the Terror Law.

If these senators really want to make online discourse safe and productive, they should mainly address the lack of reliable internet access and the failure to put forward policies guaranteeing internet rights.

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