Philippines Senator Targets Critics With 'Cyberlibel' Law, Gets Hailed As A Son Of A Bitch By Thousands Of Citizens

from the reap-sow-repeat dept

The most dangerous cybercriminals in the Philippines are the ones who swear. When not locking up critics and journalists under the country’s “cyberlibel” law, government officials are sending the cops after people for not being sufficiently respectful.

The president of the country — Rodrigo Duterte — portrays himself as a fearless destroyer of criminals. He’s openly encouraged the extrajudicial killing of drug dealers and drug users. But the tough guy image is just that. The man can’t handle being criticized (see arrests of journalists above). When citizens start getting lippy, Duterte and his favored officials call in the cops to help them abuse a law whose sole reason for existence is to be abused by powerful people.

Just two months ago, a 41-year-old salesman was arrested for his Facebook post, in which he (accurately) described Duterte as “crazy” and an “asshole.” Under most definitions of libel, opinions such as these aren’t defamatory, especially when describing a public figure. Under the nation’s law, anything Duterte doesn’t like is considered to be libelous. The country’s cybercrime law codifies the president’s expansive and self-serving definition of this term.

Now, another public official — and a good buddy of Rodrigo’s — is abusing the same law to send law enforcement after another foul-mouthed critic. Sammy Westfall has more details at Vice:

Christopher “Bong” Go, a Philippine senator and a close confidante of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, has requested authorities investigate several of his critics under the country’s controversial cyberlibel laws, leading to several being subpoenaed—and to a chorus of even stronger criticism online.

In his statement to the press, Senator Go claimed he had been the “victim” of “fake news” and had tasked the National Bureau of Investigation with looking into some recent online besmirchment. One of several hit with government subpoenas was a college student accused of sharing a post “containing fake news against the Senator.”

The contents of the targeted posts were not revealed by Senator Go. The NBI says everyone’s due process rights will be respected, though.

NBI Cybercrime Division Chief Vic Lorenzo said that the subpoenas allow for the verification of the complaint and are part of the due process that allows the defendant to be heard and validated as the person who posted the material in question.

Yes, the accused will be provided the opportunity to agree they engaged in cyberlibel. Hopefully, this process involves telling the accused what they’re accused of, because it seems like that important detail has been overlooked by Go and the NBI.

In addition to the subpoenaed student, Rappler reported that another subpoena had been sent to another person by the same law firm. The person, who was not named, confirmed to Rappler that he also shared a post critical of Go.

Rappler noted that among three others who received similar subpoenas, none were told which post triggered the subpoena, nor were they told that Go was the complainant.

As Westfall reports, this is cyberlibel standard operating procedure. Seventeen Philippines residents were hit with cyberlibel subpoenas earlier this year. None of the recipients were informed which of their social media posts were considered criminally defamatory.

But if it’s libel Senator Go wants — under his fuzzy and convenient definition — citizens are more than willing to supply it.

By Friday morning, as news of the subpoenas spread, the hashtag #TanginaMoBongGo—which literally translates to “Son of a Bitch Bong Go”—was trending on Twitter, with netizens slamming the senator for what they characterized as his heavy-handed response to online criticism. By Friday evening, there were more than 65,000 posts with the tag.

That’s how the game is played, Senator. Be a jerk, get treated like one. Of course, citizens can’t haul Go up on charges, hide the details from him, and demand he make himself available to investigators. But they can make him increasingly miserable.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

A dictator's best friend

Rappler noted that among three others who received similar subpoenas, none were told which post triggered the subpoena, nor were they told that Go was the complainant.

“Vagueness in legal threats is the hallmark of meritless thuggery” – Ken White

Quite the delightfully corrupt law that, allowing you to sic the legal system on people who say mean things about you without having to tell them what they said was against the law or even who filed the complaint, making them fear posting anything lest that trigger the law as well. Why, you’d almost think that it was tailor-made to protect the feelings of tyrannical thin-skinned thugs rather than for stated reasons.

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