It’s not only about the urban social media user

An early morning discussion with @iwriteasiwrite and @renguila on Twitter brought to the fore some realizations which have been unnoticed over these past few days of objections against the Cybercrimes Prevention Law of 2012 (Republic Act 10175).

In the middle of our discussion as to why very few offline seemed to be bothered by the implications of the law on freedom of speech, privacy of communication and due process, we threshed out that the effect actually goes beyond the young, urban, middle-class, social media-using demographic. And perhaps the rest of the population (roughly 70%) are not bothered because there has been little effort to make them see how the law might affect their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights.

For those who may not know, there have been several groups in the Philippines which also use social media to advance land rights and agrarian reform. And in the process of advancing these rights, it is inevitable that some of the materials that they post online as updates of their struggle, would ruffle the feathers of some local politicians and bosses in the multinational companies which encroach upon their land.

Take for example the case of indigenous communities in Luzon and Mindanao. Indigenous groups like the Koalisyon ng Katutubong Kasamahan sa Pilipinas or KASAPI have been actively engaged in capacity building of indigenous communities in the effort to protect their ancestral domain against encroaching by mining, logging firms and even real estate and golf course developers.

In the face of ineffective enforcement of laws relating to the protection of ancestral domain, KASAPI, aided by groups like the Philippine Association for Intercultural Development or PAFID, have used technology and the internet to document and register their ancestral domain with the Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas, in the hopes that international recognition will better protect their ancestral domain. 

In agrarian reform, groups like Task Force Mapalad regularly post updates on land acquisition cases and claims that their farmer-members are working on in various parts of the country. TFM has been involved in several bloody confrontations with armed groups of rich landowners who refuse to honor the land rights given by the government to farmers. They use social media to bring the incidents to the attention of the media and general public.

These groups are but only a few of several indigenous groups, farmers’ organizations, fisherfolk communities and almost invisible groups which use social media to draw attention to the exploitation and repression they experience from corporations, private individuals, even the government armed services and some local officials interested in their land, waters and forests.

With the implementation of the Cybercrimes Prevention Law, it is highly possible that the law would also be used to silence these groups. If prior to the passage of the bill, members of these indigenous and farmers groups have been harassed, coerced and even murdered, the new law will certainly add a new (even legal) option to the disenfranchising means which can be leveled against them.

Considering that our indigenous’ and farmers’ legal options are limited, their ability to mount a successful defense against multinational corporations, politicians or private individuals, should they need it in the face of libel charges based on RA 10175 (which are criminal in nature), might be very limited.

It would be possible then that we might see several farmers, development workers and even media professionals who have aided the indigenous communities and farmers groups, charged and behind bars for allegedly violating the law. Effectively, the law can be used to silence sectors which have already been often and long ignored.