It has been 40 years since Martial Law was declared. That was 15 years before I was born. Lucky enough for me, by the time I was born, EDSA has happened and I was free to live a life without the fear inflicted by the iron clad rules of that time. My parents might have witnessed Martial Law but they were far removed from it being very young at the time it was declared. If they have stories to tell, it was mostly tame compared to the ones I read in memoirs of people who experienced the real gist of it.
For a time, when I hear the extreme discipline that was imposed to the country during that time, and when I compare it to the seemingly lack of discipline I witness among many fellowmen today, I am led to think that times might have been better had Marcos remained president and Martial Law carried on. But as I grew older and learned more about the events of those times, I am forced to admit that I have been gravely mistaken in wishing Martial Law was still the law of the land.
Reading this article, I am led to think that I am indeed lucky not to have experienced what the previous generation had. I am lucky to have been born in a free land where freedom of expression is encouraged and critique is accepted without repercussions of imprisonment or torture. I am lucky that I can say what’s on my mind when I want it and that I can actually expect for change to happen just because I was brave enough to care.
Yet this freedom that has been granted to me is now being curtailed. Recently, the president signed the Cybercrime Law. Admittedly, I was not aware that there was such a law being passed through the legislation. Being concerned more with the RH Bill, the Freedom of Information Act and the Sin Tax Bill which are all receiving better press time even in their infancy stages, I was caught by surprise that the Cybercrime Law has been already signed.
Relatively, I am glad that such a law has been enacted. After all, with the rampant usage of Internet in our society and with the constant complaints of cyber crimes, it is about time that a law severely punishing the perpetrators of such crime be in effect in our society. But what I am worried about (and in fact afraid of) with this new law is the fact that it punishes what it calls online libel with 6-12 years in prison without parole! Talk about a pretty serious punishment for what I deem a pretty petty crime. In fact, the law punishes online libel more than printed libel which gets only ~4 years max in prison as punishment.
What’s scary is that online libel can be deemed to include everything and anything that is published online via tweets, posts, comments, blogs, etc. that is libelous (or that is offensive) to a particular person. So if I post in my Facebook status (not that I would do so) that I am annoyed with this person because this person is (insert any negative remark here) then that person can sue me for libel. In case I dared blog about my criticism for a certain public figure, that person can hunt me down and sue me for libel. In case I tweet something that is deemed offensive by a particular person, I can be sued for libel.
What’s even scarier than that is based on what I’ve observed here in our country, once suspected (or accused) of a crime, the authorities immediately grab you and place you in prison pending investigation of your crime. With the current pace of our judicial system, one can rot in prison for years before any decent hearing of his case is conducted in court. In essence, one can be imprisoned for merely saying a negative statement about a person online! Talk about freedom of expression!
Last night, I felt anxious when I re-posted this article about a certain senator and commented that certain senator issued another contradicting statement. My anxiety was further aggravated by the live tweets of Manuel L. Quezon III (@mlq3) about the actual events during that fateful day 40 years ago. Although I did not write the original content, I knew that nothing prevented the person in question from viewing it as libelous from my end and since he is powerful, he can order an arrest or an investigation on me.
For a second, I imagined walking down the streets with fear of being abducted suddenly, never to see my family again. For a second, I feared receiving letters ordering me to take down my blog, my tweets, or my posts. For a second, I imagined my voice being silenced; my freedom being taken away from me.
Twenty-six years ago we were liberated from Martial Law which signaled the triumph of freedom in our country and the rebirth of democracy and free speech. Now, forty years after Martial Law has been declared, another more sinister Law, though not necessarily employing military force threatens the very thing our parents fought for in EDSA – the freedom to speak what we want to say; the freedom to express our opinions no matter how contrary to popular belief; the freedom to criticize the people in power and remind them of who they truly serve – not themselves but the people who elected them to office.
Those freedom they fought for, the fear they’ve managed to eliminate, is now, in my opinion, coming back to haunt us in yet another form.
Are you afraid? I am.