DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday shot down a proposal of new Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay to regulate the use of social media under the new Anti-Terrorism Law.
“No, the ATL should not regulate social media,” Lorenzana said two days after Gapay made the remarks during a virtual press conference following his assumption as AFP chief in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
“It is not part of its mandate and it would violate freedom of speech and discourse,” Lorenzana said, referring to the regulation of the use of social media under the controversial law.
Some quarters have raised concerns that controversial law, which is now subject of 22 petitions questioning its constitutionality, would lead to human rights violations and other government abuses — issues that authorities have downplayed.
The Department of Justice is still in the process of crafting the implementing rules and regulations of the law (IRR), in coordination with concerned government agencies.
During the joint press conference with Lorenzana last Monday, Gapay said the military establishment will be providing inputs in crafting the IRR, including the regulation of the use of social media which he said is used by terrorists as a platform “to radicalize, to recruit and even plan terrorist acts.” Gapay also said the military input in the crafting of the IRR would also include the regulation of agricultural products, referring to ammonium nitrate which is used in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices.
Gapay drew flak for his remarks about regulating social media use, including from the Commission on Human Rights which said this “may constitute a bar for individuals to continue voicing out their opinions and ideas, curtailing fundamental freedoms.” Some lawmakers have also expressed concerns over Gapay’s proposal, including Sen. Franklin Drilon who called it illegal and unconstitutional.
Lorenzana said he talked to Gapay last Tuesday to inquire what the latter meant in proposing the regulation of social media use.
“I asked Gen. Gapay yesterday what he meant because I was likewise surprised to hear him say it during our presscon after he was installed as CSAFP (chief of staff AFP),” said Lorenzana. “He said his explanation was incomplete. According to him he meant the dark net,” said Lorenzana, referring to the clandestine network “being used to recruit and plan terrorist attacks.”
Lorenzana said the clandestine network is also used by groups to peddle drugs, traffic people, sell guns and explosives, hire assassins and promoted other illegal activities.
“But even this is difficult to regulate because it is underground and operates illegally,” Lorenzana said.
Earlier on Wednesday, AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo sought to justify Gapay’s remarks. He said “regulate,” Gapay meant the need to find mechanisms by which we could ensure that social media “will not be used as a convenient but powerful means to promote terrorism, recruit new members, solicit and generate financial, logistical, and material support from domestic and foreign sources.”
Arevalo said Gapay’s proposal seeks to prevent repetition of “tragic experiences” from the hands of the terrorists that have resulted to “countless and senseless deaths of innocent citizens” and massive destruction, among others.
“He (Gapay) talked about that view on account of the AFP’s own experience in fighting terrorists in Marawi much as that has been the lessons of other countries’ around the world in their own campaigns against terrorism,” said Arevalo.
Supporters of the Maute Group used social media to spread propaganda when the terrorist group attacked several barangays in Marawi City in May 2017. The five-month conflict left about a thousand terrorists, 168 soldiers and policemen, and 47 civilians dead.
Arevalo said the AFP assures the public “that it will not curtail and instead protect the people’s right to free speech, assembly, and redress of grievances as enshrined in the Constitution.”
In a radio interview on Tuesday night, Arevalo assured social media users they are free to criticize the government and the military. He said one cannot be considered a terrorist if he or she posts messages on social media to criticize government and military officials.
“But if you post messages with the intent to convince others to join a terrorist group like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), that’s clear recruitment which is prohibited under the Anti-Terrorism Law,” said Arevalo.