The mother, Angela, and I are inclined to cease and desist from writing about politics and the powers-that-be on our blogs (radikalchick.com and stuartsantiago.com) now that the Supreme Court has declared the Cybercrime Law’s cyber-libel provision constitutional. The President has been simplistic in his response to the outcry against the decision: he has said something to the effect that if you’re not doing anything wrong, there’s no reason to fear this libel law.
But the decision to stop blogging about this government is not because we might commit libel against this government—I’d like to think we are as responsible as writers can come. It’s because it now just seems like a waste of time.
We’ve always appreciated the freedom that blogging allows us, where we are without editors (other than each other and a brother-webmaster all the way in Holland), and can write without caring about the limits of form. That is, we can choose what language to use, and we are not bogged down by a word limit.
This freedom the blog allowed us was layered with our own personal freedoms to write about anything we pleased. We could move from government policy to the more recent showbiz controversy, I could move from art and theater reviews to the more recent media messes, Angela could go from the environment and sustainable development, from history to astrology to tennis.
I’d like to think this particular kind of freedom is ideal for any writer. While Angela has found this freedom in her later years as a writer, I have been lucky to have the luxury of claiming this freedom as mine since I started blogging and later on, writing in mainstream publications in 2008. It’s a privilege for sure, and it means an empty bank account most of the time. Such is the price one does pay for one’s freedom and independence in this country.
I have also been lucky to find publications (this one included) that have appreciated this freedom to speak. The blog as such is also a catch-all: anything I write that doesn’t fit into the mainstream mold, or is just “too political,” I can publish on my blog.
This is not the first time I’ve been threatened by libel, literally and figuratively. In January 2012, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa charged me with libel in 140 characters on Twitter for having said in the blog post “Going To The Dogs” that “Rappler has quietly revealed itself to be about helping out the government instead of being a critical voice that at the very least asks: how much was paid BBDO for this campaign and is it worth it?”
This was soon after the Department of Tourism came out with the “It’s More Fun In The Philippines” campaign, and Rappler itself called on the public to make their own memes, which I read as helping out this government campaign. This government campaign that we were questioning for its lack of transparency, and which we would’ve hoped an online media platform like Rappler—selling itself as an “alternative” to mainstream media—would know to question, too.
But pointing out that they did not question this campaign meant being called out by Ressa the day after the blog entry was posted: “I suppose every news group that did a story on memes is paid?” She then reprimanded me for not having interviewed her before writing the entry: “Ask for an intvw—before making libelous charges based on assumptions alone. Wouldn’t publish without it.”
The silence that followed was deafening. And, yes, there were some blogs and bloggers who took Ressa on, but too many others who were active on Twitter and social media didn’t even show support of any kind —not even a private message telling me to take heart. It was astounding really, to find that those who would invoke democracy and freedom online would be the last to take a stand against one Ressa, even when it was clear that her charge of libel was premised on something I didn’t even say.
It was in September 2012 when we first began being threatened by what we now know to be the Cybercrime Law and its cyber-libel provision. It was, still is, no surprise that the President is for it: after all, he has become (in)famous for taking a jab at critics every chance he gets. My favorites so far: “Bahala na si Lord sa inyo, busy ako” referring to critics, and “Yung mga kritiko ho natin may industriya na ho sa Pilipinas.”
With cyber-libel and a libel law that has yet to be decriminalized, all those instances in which the President reprimanded critics now seem like portents of things to come.
I disagree with his assessment that doing things right means we have nothing to fear. The thing with charges of libel, including the kind that’s tweeted for all the world to see, is that in this country, it is not about whether you did things right; it’s about how the subject of your writing takes offense. And between a President who has made such strong statements against critics, and the sacred cows in our midst, imagine how much of a weapon cyber-libel is.
It can only be scarier for those who are unaffiliated and independent, writing on their blogs. There are no editorial filters there, and suing a blogger for libel will mean dealing only with one person and not an institution like a newspaper or its editors. It will also be easier to silence us because we do not have the money to deal with a libel charge. It doesn’t matter whether the charge of libel holds any water; what matters is the time and energy to be wasted on dealing with someone who cannot take criticism, and who has the money to spend on screaming bloody libel.
Too, the mother and I realize: we have said everything we have to say about this government on our blogs. It’s not that this government can do nothing right; it’s that it believes only its own propaganda about itself and doesn’t care for critiques. Cyber-libel made us realize that maybe the political commentary on our blogs might suffice until 2016, because this is a government that doesn’t listen anyway, and repeats its own foibles.
Re-posting sounds like a good idea.