Change of mind
This past year, 2012, was the year I changed my mind about President Benigno Aquino. As a private citizen, I had welcomed his candidacy because he was offering a real alternative to the trapos (traditional politicians) who were running for the presidency in 2010. As a journalist, I could not actually voice out my support for him since I had to be neutral, but I felt this was the person we had been waiting for to lead us out of the rut we were in as a nation. True enough, his first two years were marked by a strict adherence to what he had promised: a return to the matuwid na daan or straight path where graft and corruption were punished instead of rewarded. I think he made such an impact that the world soon took notice, and we are now reaping the fruit of his unrelenting campaign against corruption.
But lately PNoy’s tone has been changing from one of benevolence to malevolence, as if his success has given him the right to become more overbearing and, well, dictatorial when it comes to the freedoms we enjoy as a people. This is evident in his stand on the controversial Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act, which has, among others, increased the penalties for libel if it is committed with a computer or other such instrument. It is true that, by his own admission, this provision was inserted by Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto and not by the President, but PNoy signed the law, and unless he did not actually read it, it must be presumed that he knew full well what it meant for the people and the freedom we cherish.
Mr. Aquino signed the bill into law knowing that it meant the suppression of the freedom of millions of Filipinos who have a presence in cyberspace, especially through blogs and social networking sites. RA 10175 was a sword hanging over every Filipino netizen’s head, ready to fall on anyone who said anything negative against someone else – particularly politicians who stood the most to gain from the law’s repressive provisions. The worst part was that the mere act of “liking” or re-tweeting a negative post could land one in prison. The President knew these provisions and still signed the bill into law – he even said he was standing by it despite the uproar from the people.
A week after RA 10175 took effect, the Supreme Court issued a 120-day restraining order on it, but even then the President said he opposed the removal of libel from its provisions. If you’re not doing anything wrong, he told us; then you have nothing to fear. That was actually a veiled threat: cross the line, he might as well have said, and the full force of the law will bear down on you. The law is also so vague that a politician can accuse even those who are not doing anything wrong of having committed cyberlibel. It is not up to the President or his benevolence to decide whether someone should be charged with libel or not; freedom of expression is enshrined in our constitution, and Mr. Aquino has no choice but respect it. To my mind, there should be no recourse for the President but to repeal RA 10175.
Discrimination and the Filipino
Speaking of laws, Davao City has established a reputation for being ahead of its time in terms of legislation, crafting significant laws way before supposedly more developed cities even think about them. Among these are the women development code, the children’s welfare code, the comprehensive anti-smoking ban, the firecracker and pyrotechnic ban, and the plastic bags ban. But almost passing under the radar this month was the passing on third and final reading of the anti-discrimination ordinance, which makes it a crime in Davao City to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, colour, descent, nationality or ethnic origin and religious affiliations or beliefs.
The law passed almost unnoticed because not many Davaoeños even know what discrimination is, much less that they are often involved in it in one way or another. Discrimination, by definition, is the “unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age or sex.” It is unfortunate that in an increasingly multicultural, multi-ethnical and multi-faceted country like the Philippines, discrimination is still the order of the day.
Take, for instance, the propensity of many people to associate religion or ethnicity with criminal activity. It is still rather common to find news reports about “Muslim terrorists” or “Maranao thieves” – as if their being Muslim or Maranao were relevant to their ways. To see how ridiculous this form of labeling is, try doing it with a person who is not Muslim: “Christian murderer,” or “Catholic rapist,” or “Tagalog arsonist.” If that kind of labeling will never see the light of day, then why do we take for granted the labeling of other groups who happen to be in the minority?
We are, then, a nation of bigots, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can heal the wounds that have festered for decades and have prevented us from achieving peace with each other. In lieu of this realization, the Davao City Council has prescribed some penalties if only to instil in us the need to see each other equally: for first-time offenders, the ordinance imposes a fine of P1,000; for second-time offenders, the penalty is a P2,000 fine and 10 days imprisonment; and for frequent violators, it’s a P5,000 fine and 15 days imprisonment “or upon the discretion of the court.” It would have been better if there had been no need to legislate against discrimination, but since we have shown no tendency towards correcting ourselves, this is the next best thing. Now if only the rest of the country would follow Davao City’s example.
Jon Joaquin is the managing editor of the largest circulation newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Daily Mirror in Davao City.