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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Senate legal luminaries who voted to pass Cybercrime Prevention Law must share blame for criminalizing on-line libel, instead of folks targeting only Sen. Sotto as scapegoat. SC does tough balancing act by “partially granting relief” to netizens in striking out DOJ’s authority to shut down websites and pull out suspect computer data---as solons had provided in the law. Three months and half after Yolanda, no clear rehab blueprint amid queries on where huge foreign donations went.


Yolanda victims and survivors in
 "People Surge" movement demand action  from the President. 
Netizens are up in arms over the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the constitutionality of RA 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act. They are now bashing Sen. Tito Sotto for his insertion of the provision penalizing on-line libel.

Indeed Sen. Sotto was not thinking right about this insertion, but then expectations on the density of his grey matter have never been high, given his background. To me the bigger blame ought to be cast on his colleagues, especially the abogados de campanilla in the Senate, led by former Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, RA 10175’s principal author and once president of the UP and the IBP, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate President Franklin Drilon.  

The other lawyers in the Senate include Cayetano siblings Alan Peter and Pia, and Chiz Escudero, and they should have known the implications of this law---most especially the chilling effect it would have on freedom of expression as enshrined in our Bill of Rights. 

A full debate had raged on the cybercrime bill for many months and yet in September 2012 they passed it--- including the on-line libel provision and the shocking authority given to the DOJ to snatch from the Internet any material considered offensive by the government. 

As this time of writing, the SC decision has triggered over 100,000 internet protesters---so that now mukhang naghuhugas-kamay na sa Senado and it looks like the entire blame for this draconian law is being manipulated to rain on Sotto and his on-line libel insertion.

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The staunch opposition to RA 10175 will file a motion for reconsideration on the SC’s decision to uphold what’s now being termed the e-Martial Law. But given the way voting reportedly went virtually unanimous in the High Court---this is one of the few times the Court didn’t publicly divulge how it actually voted (natatakot din kaya ang mga magistrates on reprisal from scores of angry netizens?)---chances would be nil on reversal.

What I found particularly distressing was Sec. 19 in this law that authorizes the DOJ to restrict or block access to suspected computer data. In other words, it could just snatch a particular issue and obliterate it from cyber-space.

The SC obviously had to do a tough balancing act to please both advocates and opposition to the Cybercrime Law. For instance, the SC ruling seeks to pin down the “original author” in the cyber-libel provision but it lets off the hook those repeating or passing off this "offensive" opinion (this is a rather crazy ruling, for as a write-up rolls over and over in the Internet, often without acknowledging sources, the original author disappears. This is what happened in many instances of unintended plagiarism).

But what really was surprising---and painful to freedom-lovers---was how Congress, particularly the Senate, could have allowed Sec. 19 to pass.

Apparently light dawned on the justices to “partially grant the relief” sought by netizens when it struck down this provision together with three controversial ones. 

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President Aquino failed to meet with the leaders of the “People Surge” movement of Yolanda victims and survivors in Tacloban, led by the outspoken and articulate Sr. Edita Eslopor last Monday; instead a minor Palace functionary received their manifesto of protest over the lack of coherent action in their area, over 100 days after the devastating typhoon.  

This was preceded by a lying-in at the Palace gates by activists from this group.

What added to the demonstrators' angst is that P-Noy was quoted today as saying that instead of spending their funds on transportation here to bring their message, they should have just spent these on their sustenance back in Tacloban. The presidential irk was quickly echoed by DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman. 

P-Noy's and Dinky's reaction made them look quite insensitive as they failed to realize that the big fear of affected folks in the Visayas is that media appear to be losing interest in their plight; hence their effort to dramatize that fear before the Palace.   

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The people of Tacloban and other areas decry what they consider the neglect by the administration of their welfare and needs, and that their hunger, homelessness and lack of meaningful employment have remained unresolved. Various foreign agencies as well as local and foreign media have also pointed out the problems of over a million folks dislocated and surviving until now in tents in Eastern Visayas.

To be fair, the problems left by Yolanda are unprecedented and it’s easy to see that the administration has been overwhelmed by them---so that nearly 3 ½ months since the typhoon struck, no comprehensive plan has been drawn up for relief and rehabilitation. No clear blueprint of action.

Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao recently noted remarks made by Rehab Czar Panfilo Lacson at the recent PMA graduation rites in Baguio, where he complained about the trickling in of funds and how planning seems to still be at the coordination stage. In fact  BobiTiglao surmises that Lacson won’t last three months in his job due to frustration. He also cited the on-the-spot reporting of ABS-CBN broadcaster Ted Failon, who’s a native Leyteno, about the lack of progress in his city during a recent visit.

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The problem is that people won’t take kindly to inaction in the Visayas rehab, for everyone knows that so much in foreign funds has poured in---the popular frustration is that it’s not being spent for reasons known only to the administration. As I stated earlier, it seems that P-Noy’s government appears to be truly overwhelmed by the mind-boggling enormity of rehabilitating the Visayas. But something has to be done as the frustration is mounting.

I wrote in this space, three weeks after Yolanda struck, the opinion of industrialist Ramon S. Ang, President of PAL and San Miguel Corporation, in response to my query about the need to appoint a “Reconstruction Czar” for devastated Visayas (in fact I had ‘nominated’ the dynamic RSA for that post). Ramon Ang opined that instead of appointing one super-Czar, the rehab task should be divided into probably three regions---each with its own Czar who would then compete with one another for success.

I also advocated involving proven private sector managers in this gigantic task, and in fact I opined even before former Sen. Panfilo Lacson was appointed, that it would be better to recruit from the private sector rather than a politician---for obvious reasons. I’m being proven right.

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The super-human task of rehabilitating the Visayas has to be addressed even phase by phase; and just as important, the public has to be informed and up-dated on programs and progress, as otherwise it would lose faith in the government even more---as what’s happening now.

Folks in the midst of the disaster are clamoring for outright dole-out assistance of P40, 000 per family (aware that there’s lots of donated funds held by government). I’m not in favor of this dole-out as it could be spent on TV sets, refrigerators, fiestas galore and other tempting options. What the folks there need right now---especially with the total destruction of their major livelihood, the coconut industry--- is a CASH-FOR-WORK program.

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For instance, many people still live in tents and want to rehabilitate their homes. Why not make them undertake this job themselves for which they will be paid, with government providing the construction materials they need.  This is far better than the dole-out to the poor---the conditional cash transfer (CCT), amounting to a whopping P63 billion this year--- that has become mired in corruption at the grassroots, as various TV programs have asserted.

Some private groups such as that of my brother, Danny Olivares, raised funds and delivered finished wooden bancas to remote seaside areas of Capiz for start-up livelihood; but since the donation has raised fear of destruction of more forests to make into boats, the donors are exploring fiber-glass boats.

What this administration needs, that the private sector has been displaying far better, is a little imagination and plenty of resolve.



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