(via CMFR) Certain members of the 15th Congress apparently have no knowledge of, or have chosen to ignore, the fact that freedom of information is a human right, and that the United Nations Human Rights Committee has declared the Philippine libel law incompatible with international human rights law.
It would not matter were these individuals not charged with the task of legislation. The fact that they are, together with their antipathy to freedom of information and a free press, constitutes a mix lethal for free expression and freedom of information in the Philippines.
Two bills, one in the initial stages of the legislative process, and the other on the brink of approval by both houses of Congress, are illustrative.
In the House of Representatives, Congressman Lord Allan Jay Velasco of Marinduque has filed several bills, including House Bill (HB) 5835 which would increase the fine for each count of libel.
Velasco notes that the Revised Penal Code provisions on libel are 82 years old and are outmoded. Indeed they are—but in the sense that the penalties they mandate, including imprisonment, are antithetical not only to press freedom but also to the democratic need of citizens for information on matters of public interest. Rather than increase the penalties for libel, an enterprise that can only be described as retrogressive, Velasco’s energies are better spent decriminalizing it.
Senate Bill (SB) 2965, the reconciled version of three House and Senate bills now entitled “The Data Privacy Act”, would create a National Privacy Commission with the power to monitor the processing of personal information in all forms and media of communication, to halt the process in the name of privacy and national security, and to penalize violators, including private entities, government officials and agencies as well as the media, for obtaining, or causing the release or publication of, “personal information”.
Section 31 mandates that “The penalty of imprisonment ranging from two (2) years and four (4) months to five (5) years and a fine not less than Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (Php 500,000.00) but not more than Two Million Pesos (Php 2,000,000,000.00) shall be imposed in case of a breach of confidentiality where such breach has resulted in the information being published or reported by media. In this case, the responsible reporter, writer, president, publisher, manager and editor-in-chief shall be liable under this Act.”
SB 2965 defines “personal information” as “any information whether recorded in a material form or not, from which the identity of an individual is apparent or can be reasonably ascertained by the entity holding the information, or when put together with other information would identify an individual.” The definition would therefore include information vital to the imperatives of transparency and accountability in both government and those sectors of the private sector whose work has a bearing on public interest. SB 2965 is also contrary to the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill that has been submitted to the Congressional Committees on Public Information.
Not only media and journalists’ organizations must oppose SB 2965 and HB 5835. Human rights organizations and accountability and transparency watch groups—every organization concerned with freedom of information, government accountability and with the right not only to disseminate but also to receive information– must unite in preventing these and similar bills from passing the legislative mill, which, in contrast to the speed with which it has processed SB 2965, has failed to act on the FOI bill despite the painstaking efforts of its stakeholders, which include no less than the free press, free expression groups, and the entire Philippine citizenry.