Philippines and the International Network:
Improving Senate Bill No. 53 otherwise known as the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom
The Philippines, composing of more than seven thousand (7,000) islands, is a country with one of the world’s highest number of citizens which uses mobile technology, particularly the social media, in their daily lives. In 2012, the Philippines was ranked 12th for the most number of mobile phone users in the world and 34th for the most number of internet users.i This fact could be attributed to the social media applications that are popularly used today such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many others. Today, even the government utilizes these applications to better serve its constituents on a daily basis. As an example, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) created a Twitter account (@MMDA) to respond to motorist’s queries about the traffic situation in major roads of the Metropolitan Manila.
The population of “netizens” or defined as participants in the online community of the internetii grew with the passage of time. Soon, Filipinos were turning to the World Wide Web, not just to interact with each other socially, but also to exploit it for other means such as a new distribution channel for online businesses. With the increase in internet activities, the problems in cyberspace also grew. Just recently, the Philippines deported 44 Taiwanese accused of online and phone scams targeting mainland Chinese, Taiwanese officials.iii Unfortunately, current events in the country will show that many “online crimes” committed in the past were not punished since there is no law that would penalize such acts. Under Sec 5(1) of the Revised Penal Code, the court should report to the Chief Executive any acts which is not punishable by law that they believe that must be subject of legislation. Hence as answer to these increasing problems, the government created laws like the E- Commerce Law (RA 8792), Data Privacy Law (RA 10173), and etc. The most recent of which is the Cybercrime Prevention Act (R.A.10175) which was met with a lot of criticisms, because according to some, it allegedly violates the freedom of expression and it gives the government too much power over Internet users.
Seeing that these laws are not broad enough to cover the “gray areas” that traverse the vast space of the World Wide Web, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago announced in a press release that she is seeking to pass a law that could be the “anti- cybercrime law 2.0”. If passed, the bill will repeal the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act. The said bill will not only lay down the criminal activities that a person can do in the internet, but will also define and empower the rights (freedom of expression, privacy and due process) of each netizen of the Republic of the Philippines.iv Furthermore, according to the Senator, a group of concerned netizens—composed of software designers, IT specialists, academics, bloggers, engineers, lawyers, and human rights advocates—approached her office with a draft of the MCPIF. The group formulated the MCPIF through discussions in an open Facebook group, Email, Google Hangout teleconferences, and social media channels like Twitter.v This means that the bill sought to be passed, did not only come from researchers of the government, but from netizens who have encountered or are still encountering the same problems and ask that their rights be protected. Last year, the bill was re-filed by Senator Miriam Santiago as Senate Bill No. and on another press release on 3 July 2013, she asked the help of the young generation to support the passage of the bill as she dubbed them as the new opinion leaders of the country.vi
The full title of the bill is “An Act establishing a Magna Carta for Internet Freedom, Cybercrime Prevention and Law enforcement, Cyberdefense and National Cybersecurity” and is shortly known as the “Magna Carta for Internet Freedom of the Philippines”. The Bill has 85 sections and is divided into 10 parts.vii The bill views the internet as source of countless information that could either make or break the development of the country; hence, it aims to generate rules, regulations and policies that could assure that the usage of the World Wide Web in the country is for its progress.
The study of law is a continuous process. Laws are created to protect the general safety of citizens and to safeguard its constitutional rights. Hence despite the abundance of laws already in force in the country, new laws must be developed to keep up with the changing times. This paper aims to recommend certain improvements in the subject bill. It is divided into several parts, each addressing a specific part of the bill that can be enhanced.
Universal use of the Internet
Section 5(a) of the bill provides that: “The State shall, within its jurisdiction, protect and promote universal access to the Internet.” The government should strive to make the internet readily accessible to all Filipinos, not only to those within Metro Manila, but more so to those in rural areas who have little or no access to it. Other countries, like Taiwan, is now offering Wi-Fi service which is free for all of citizens.viii The Philippines, should endeavor for the same thing. This can be done in several integral phases. First, by introducing such service to the major cities in the country, to wit: Metro Manila, Metro Davao, and Metro Cebu. Second, each local government unit should be tasked to create Wi-Fi spots in cities within their territory, particularly in the cities where there is a huge number of students. Thereafter, the local government units should expand their coverage from municipalities up to the barangay level. By doing this, the bill will accomplish its objective of promoting universal access to the internet.
In addition to this, it can help small-scale businesses to advertise their products and services through the use of the World Wide Web. Thus increasing their target market and enabling them to compete with large-scale businesses. It may also improve the educational system of the country, by augmenting the lack of materials available to students in public and private institutions.
Education for Responsible Internet Usage
In line with the abovementioned provision, the bill should also mandate educational institutions to create courses and/or seminars in responsible and legal internet usage. This can be integrated in their values formation class and/or computer class. Currently, there is no course of such nature. This may have been the root cause why there is a rampant violation of intellectual property rights through the internet without these minors knowing it. Status quo provides that most of the internet users today are aged from 14-20 years old.ix This means that minors have the greatest probability of violating or are being violated under this bill. The bill should also direct the government, more particularly the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Center for Higher Education (CHEd), to add internet etiquette, social media responsibility and basic knowledge of criminal internet violations to the curriculums of educational institutions.
A perfect example of this problem is plagiarism which has become one of the most sensational problems of our educational system this past year. This was highlighted when Mark Solis, a UP Student, submitted a photo that was grabbed from the photo website Flickr, to a photo contest here in Manila. The said photo belonged to a Brazilian nationalx. This put the country in a bad light in the international market, because it showed the country’s lack of knowledge when it comes to proper internet usage and social media protocol. This kind of violation would have been prevented if the government focused on inculcating in its citizens, particularly the youth, proper decorum in the World Wide Web.
The second point of this paper is related to the first. Section 8(e) of this bill provides that “Notwithstanding existing provisions of law, it shall be presumed that any infringement of intellectual property rights by a minor was done with the knowledge and consent of his parents and guardians.” Since the bill wants to promote the universal access to the internet, the bill should also specify exactly when the parents and guardians of a minor will be liable for the violations made by the latter. This is in keeping with the provision of the Civil Code of the Philippines, particularly under Sec. 221, which states that parents and other persons exercising parental authority shall be civilly liable for damages caused by acts of their emancipated children. Hence parents must take it upon themselves to create security measures in their home computers that will allow them to regulate their minor children’s use of the internet.
Moreover, since a greater number of the population go to computer shops to access the internet therein, then parents or guardians of the said minor cannot always know what the minor is doing in the web. This paper recommends that the culpability of the minor, especially when they are accessing the internet in computer shops, should be at the expense of the owner and/or administrators of these shops. The reason for this is that these computer shop owner’s or administrators should device a mechanism to filter what is being uploaded and downloaded in their respective shops. With this kind of regulation, violations of property rights, if not entirely eradicated, will surely be lessened.
Business Owners’ Education
Since computer shops in the streets of the Philippines are rampant, the national or the local government should create a regulation that owner’s or persons who are planning to put up a computer shop should have attended seminars relating to social media responsibility, internet freedom rights and cybercrime prevention. In 2011, it was reported that 7 out of 10 computers are using pirated software.xi This will not only jeopardize the very hardware where these pirated programs were installed, but could also be a breeding ground for cybercrimes. A study conducted by Microsoft’s Security Forensics team revealed that 63 percent of counterfeit software DVDs and computers with illegal copies of Windows and other software from Southeast Asia contained high-risk malware infections and viruses.xii If owners of said establishments will take the necessary accreditations and seminars from the government before they can operate, it is a huge probability that they will use genuine programs in their computers to avoid any infractions from the government.
Furthermore, the government can establish connections with computers and software manufacturers to buy said products for a cheaper price in bulk. The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), whose creation is part of the passing of the subject bill, can re-sell it to computer shop owners for a cheaper price to give these small-scale businessman for a legal but a cheaper alternative to pirated software and programs.
In line with this, it also recommended that the DICT should monitor all computer shops by conducting random site inspections in the said establishments. This will ensure that computer services offered to the public are legal and are protected from high-risk malware infections and viruses.
- Creation of the Department of Information and Communication Technology
The bill is pursuing to create a department that would cater to the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) of the country. One of its objectives is to ensure universal access and high-speed connectivity at a fair and reasonable cost.xiii This will be improved by regulating the country’s premier internet service providers such as, PLDT, Globe Telecoms, Smart Telecommunications and Sun Cellular. By giving these corporations incentives, they can produce more infrastructures to support the rapid increase of mobile and internet users in our country today. In 2012, the then President of Brazil signed a law to give tax incentives and other benefits to telecommunication companies as an exchange for private investment in strategic projects.xiv The measure taken by the Brazilian government proved to be a good move on their part, because currently their country has the fastest LTE network in the world at 27.1 Mbps comparing to the Philippines which only has 5.6Mbps to boastxv. According to studies, the Philippines has the poorest and slowest internet connection in South East Asia and that, as IT specialists would say, is because of lack of a department or a commission that will secure the ICT development in the country in a holistic level.xvi
This demonstrates that giving benefits to companies, and giving them more freedom for investments, while still being regulated by the government, is beneficial, not only to individual internet users, but to the companies as well, because that could maximize profits.
Amendment to the current Public Telecommunications Policy Act of the Philippines
Under the bill, it aims to amend the abovementioned law to empower the rights of end-users. Following the bill’s policy of universal access to the internet, the bill grants end-users the right to apply for internet connection with any telecommunication company and the right to withdraw therefrom without violating their respective contracts. Currently, internet service providers require their clients to sign a contract that will them for at least 2 years before they have the freedom to choose to continue the service or not. This is commonly known as a 2-year “lock-up” period.
The problem with this, however, is that consumers often encounter various issues with regard to the quality of the service within the two-year “lock-up” period. Often, telecommunications companies do not live up to their promise of a fast internet servicexvii. End-users are left in a wearisome situation where they have no choice, but to finish the 2-year contract with the service provider; hence, despite not being able to get the service which they signed up and paid for, they are constrained to continue paying the company.
To further strengthen the said policy, the bill should also include that service providers should deliver the service that they advertised in the first place. This means, that these companies should exercise honest advertising in promoting their services. Their advertisements should give end-users genuine information regarding their services to enable them to make informed decisions. Moreover, the bill can also be improved by providing for a provision that would empower end-users the legal power to sue these companies for false advertisements and publications as to ensure that no person will be vulnerable to unjust enrichment. In this process, the government should take an active role in holding such companies accountable for their actions. These are positive developments towards protecting consumer rights and at the same time, a source of motivation for companies to offer exceptional service delivery and strive to improve and innovate their product offerings.
The bill intends to repeal the current Cybercrime Prevention Law of 2012 due to the fact that some provisions of the law is claimed to be unconstitutional. On February of this year, the Supreme Court tempered segments of the Act, declaring certain provisions—including posting a link to libelous material—unconstitutionalxviii. Thus, the subject bill aims to regulate the use of the internet without violating the rights of the citizens.
As the country keeps abreast with the technological advances of the world, the laws must likewise adapt to these changes. The Legislative branch of the government should modify the Revised Penal Code, as it does not provide for penal sanctions for criminal activities in these modern times.xix The government, however, must be conscious that many of the modern criminal activities involve a computer and the World Wide Web. In a study, it is said that 9 out of 10 Filipinos have been victimized by cybercrimes or other malicious activity in the internet. Furthermore, the Department of Justice avers that cybercrime has become one of the fastest growing crimes globally.xx It is then needed that the penal code of the country must also contain provisions that would penalize crybercrimes or malicious acts through the use of the internet.
While the bill provides for “Cyber – espionage”, a crime if done without the use of the internet is punishable under the current Revised Penal Code, the bill must also seek for other crimes in the Revised Penal Code that must be punishable if done through the use of the internet. As an example, the recent articles about the United States government and the Japanese government allegedly not requiring visas for Filipino visitors in their respective countries. The former denied the news and added that the Philippines has not yet been added to the list countries eligible for participation in the Visa Waiver Program.xxi While the Japanese Embassy in Manila clarified that the no-visa policy of Japan towards Filipino tourists is still a plan.xxii Paragraph 1 of Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code, penalize “1. Any person who by means of printing, lithography, or any other means of publication shall publish or cause to be published as news any false news which may endanger the public order, or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State.” In the same way, the said provision should apply to persons who use the internet to publish false news that may endanger the public order or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State. These two internet articles may not have affected the country’s relationship with the countries mentioned; however, a repeat of such events may create problems in the future that may damage the country’s relations with other states.
As the saying goes, prevention is better than the cure. Hencethe bill should likewise state that acts done through the use of the computer and the internet, if constituting an offense under the Revised Penal Code, should be penalized in the same manner.
Globalization is defined as the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially by free trade, free flow of capital, and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor markets.xxiii As the Philippines moves towards globalization, the government should consider joining world organizations, whose purpose includes the creation of a universal protocol for information and communication technology. It can start by sending a representative to the 4th World Congress on Information and Communication Technology which will be held Malaysia this year. The said congressaims to provide an opportunity for policy maker, academia and industry practitioner to meet and discuss the arising problem, innovative solutions, novel scientific results and methods in the usage and applications of ICT in the real world.xxiv
The legislative department must take a proactive stance in developing the country’s body of laws. As the world changes, it must be steadfast in creating or amending bills to keep up with such changes. It must incorporate in the subject bill, a provision which requires it to be updated by repeal or by amendment every given period in order that it will always remain relevant.
Senate Bill 53 or the Magna Carta for Internet Freedom is an answer to every netizen’s problem in the country. The Philippines is being cited as a model for participative democracy, that through crowdsourcing, the collaboration and direct participation of citizens enabled by the Internet and ICT, laws can be crafted that reflect most accurately our people’s aspirations.xxv Indeed, this country’s citizens, whose majority is an active participant in the cyberworld, are given hope by a law that if passed, would safeguard their constitutional rights. The bill is certainly revolutionary as it is not only focused on cracking down criminal activities on the internet, but also listed specific steps to protect constitutional rights like free expression, privacy, and due process.
In conclusion, the bill may still need improvements before its implementation, but its passage as a bill and its enactment in the future, clearly shows that the Philippines is in the verge of technological advancement, and that it has the capability to keep up with developed nations in terms of what they offer to their citizens. It is a delight that the Legislative branch of the government has taken its first step towards advancing the country’s laws relating to internet freedom. However, bills regarding internet freedom should not stop here. More laws need to be developed as time progresses and as advancements in technology arise. Furthermore, it must be kept in mind that laws, no matter how beautifully crafted, if not well implemented, will be rendered meaningless. The executive branch of the government must ensure its proper implementation; while the judiciary must make certain that it is ready to form special courts where problems relating to internet usage can be aired out.
i“The World Fact Book” US Central Intelligence Agency 14 April 2014 (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rp.html)
iii “Philippines deports 44 Taiwanese over Internet scam”. Rappler. April 24, 2014. http://www.rappler.com/nation/56308-philippines-deports-taiwanese-internet-scam).
iv“Magna Carta for Internet Freedom to replace Anti- Cybercrime Law – Miriam” Senate of the Philippines 30 November 2012 (http://www.senate.gov.ph/press_release/2012/1130_santiago1.asp)
vi“After the RH Law: Magna Carta for Internet Freedom is Miriam’s new pet bill” Senate of the Philippines 3 July 2013 (http://www.senate.gov.ph/press_release/2013/0703_santiago1.asp)
ix “More Filipinos now using Internet for news, information–study” Santos, Matikas. Phillipine Daily Inquirer. 31 January 2012 (http://technology.inquirer.net/8013/more-filipinos-now-using-internet-for-news-information-study)
x “UP student wins contest using ‘stolen’ photo” Patria, Kim Arveen. Yahoo Southeast Asia News Room 23 September 2013. (https://ph.news.yahoo.com/up-student-wins-contest-using–stolen–photo-030823034.html)
xi “Use of pirated software increases to 70% in 2011” de Leon, Max. ABS-CBN News. 17 August 2012. (http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/business/08/17/12/use-pirated-software-increases-70-2011)
xii “Microsoft warns against use of pirated software” Montecillo, Paolo. Philippine Daily Inquirer. 25 Februaury 2013. (http://technology.inquirer.net/23369/microsoft-warns-against-use-of-pirated-software)
xiii Senate Bill No. 53 Sec 15(d)
xiv “Industry applauds Brazil’s new tax incentive law for telecom sector”. Prescott, Roberta. RCR Wireless. 19 September 2012. (http://www.rcrwireless.com/americas/20120919/networks/analysts-see-positive-brazils-new-law-tax-incentives-telecom-sector/)
xv “Philippines has slowest, poorest mobile LTE connection, says report”. Philippine Daily Inquirer. 21 February 2014 (http://technology.inquirer.net/34435/philippines-has-slowest-poorest-mobile-lte-connection-says-report)
xvi “Government blamed for PH’s slow internet speed” Santos, Matikas. 1 May 2014. (http://technology.inquirer.net/35871/govt-blamed-on-phs-slow-internet-speed”
xviii “Philippines: Inching towards Censorship” Carlson, Kimberly and York, Jillian. Electronic Frontier Foundation. 3 April 2014. (https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/04/philippines-inching-toward-censorship)
xix “DOJ committee complete first phase of penal code revision” Merueñas, Mark. GMA News. 22 November 2012. (http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/283279/news/nation/doj-committee-completes-first-phase-of-penal-code-revision)
xx “87% of Filipino Internet users have been victims of cybercrimes — DOJ” Avendaño, Christine. Philippine Daily Inquirer. 1 January 2013. (http://technology.inquirer.net/21557/87-of-filipino-internet-users-have-been-victims-of-cybercrimes-doj)
xxi “‘No US visa’ goes viral”. Mateo, Janvic. The Philippine Star. 24 April 2014. (http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2014/04/24/1315450/no-us-visa-goes-viral)
xxii “Japan says visa-free entry still a plan” Quismundo, Tarra. Philippine Daily Inquirer. 17 April 2014. (http://globalnation.inquirer.net/102205/japan-says-visa-free-entry-still-a-plan)
xxiii “Globalization” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2014 (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/globalization)
xxv “Our rights online are our rights offline”. Galla, Pierre. ABS-CBN News. 3 March 2014. (http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/opinions/03/03/14/our-rights-online-are-our-rights-offline)