Can legislation be used to stem trolls and disinfect social media at the reported expense of civil liberties?
Calling it a "big win" for troll farms, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon criticized President Rodrigo Duterte's vetoing of a bill seeking to require Filipinos to register their SIM cards and use their real names on social media.
“By vetoing this bill, the President lets trolls to thrive, spread lies and hate, and fuel discord and division,” Drilon said in a statement April 16. “Political trolling as we’ve seen these days is a thriving business."
He cited attacks against Vice President Leni Robredo's daughter Aika, who has fallen victim to a fabricated sex video online.
Drilon said the veto is "meant to protect trolls," describing it as Duterte's "parting gift" before stepping down as president.
The bill reportedly aims to curb disinformation, anonymous online defamation, trolling, and libel, among others, and prevent terrorism, text scams, and bank fraud.
Citizens buying SIM cards and existing subscribers must provide to telco companies their personal information, stored in a central database.
Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter would also mandate users to use their real names and mobile numbers in creating accounts.
In vetoing the bill, Malacañang said Duterte flagged the inclusion of social media registration that wasn't part of the bill's original version, which only mandated the SIM card registration. Drilon was reportedly behind the inclusion.
Duterte cited the need for a "more thorough study" amid individual privacy and free speech concerns.
Valenzuela Rep. Wes Gatchalian, a principal author of the vetoed bill, said he agrees with Duterte's move as he noted the "last-minute insertion" of Drilon to include social media registration.
“Unfortunately, (it) is totally not in line with the essence of this bill," Gatchalian said in a statement. "There is nothing in the bill specifying how to register such a broad environment (internet)."
“Though equally important, that provision should have been studied further and filed as a separate bill,” he noted.
Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon also took to Twitter his frustrations about the vetoing of the bill, noting that he first pushed for the SIM card registration bill in the 13th Congress and refiled it "again and again" until the 18th Congress approved it.
I first pushed for the sim card reg bill in the 13th congress, refiled it again & again, until 18th congress approved it. Frustrating for it to be vetoed because of a rider inserted by the bicam.— Ruffy Biazon (@ruffybiazon) April 16, 2022
"Frustrating for it to be vetoed because of a rider inserted by the bicam," he wrote, referring to supposed insertion of social media registration.
Drilon, meanwhile, disputed claims that the social media registration requirement was a "last-minute insertion," noting that it's been studied and introduced in the Senate plenary.
"Twenty-two senators voted in favor of the measure on third reading last December. The House of Representatives adopted our version with little modification,” he said in his April 16 statement.
Overturn Duterte's veto, 'act in a timely manner'
Sen. Grace Poe, who defended the bill in the plenary as Senate committee on public services chairperson, said she's hoping for the 18th Congress to overturn Duterte's veto.
“We count on Congress to act in a timely manner in reconsidering the bill for approval in accordance with the legislative process,” Poe said in a statement April 16.
While a bill may be vetoed by the president, the House of Representatives and the Senate may overturn the veto by separately by mustering a two-thirds vote.
Poe also stressed out that freedom of expression is "not absolute," citing cases of "obscenity, libel, or when public safety and order are at stake."
She said the vetoed bill still upholds jurisprudence in the Chavez v. Gonzales in 2008, in which the Supreme Court ruled that content-neutral regulation are "not designed to suppress any particular message" and "not subject to the strictest form of judicial scrutiny but an intermediate approach.”
“The veto highlights the need for ongoing efforts, both public and private, to find effective ways to protect our citizens and our democracy,” she said.
'Absence of safeguards'
Sen. Ping Lacson, who's running for president in the 2022 polls, said he agreed with Duterte’s move, noting that there's an "absence" of safeguards or guidelines in the social media registration provision.
Lacson's own version of the bill did not have the social media clause.
Mandating social media registration in the proposed SIM Card Registration Act could be violative of the “one subject one title rule” under the 1987 Constitution, not to mention the lack of guidelines in the provision not even covered by the title of the measure itself.— PING LACSON (@iampinglacson) April 15, 2022
“Mandating social media registration could be violative of the ‘one subject, one title’ rule as defined under the 1987 Constitution, not to mention the absence of safeguards or guidelines in the said provision not even covered by the title of the measure itself,” Lacson said in a tweet.
In his April 16 statement, however, Drilon pointed out that the bill, even with the social media registration provision, has enough safeguards—downplaying concerns over individual privacy and free speech.
He pointed out that disclosure of information is in accordance with the Data Privacy Act of 2012. Telco companies and social media companies would be penalized for any data breach.
An individual's personal information, Drilon said, is also treated as confidential and will only be disclosed with the written consent of the subscriber; if it's in compliance with a court order, legal process, or other government regulatory; and if there's enforceable administrative request for information.