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Drilon tells AFP chief Gapay: Free speech is sacred, inviolable right

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MANILA – One of the primary authors of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 has scored the proposal of new Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay to include provisions to regulate social media in the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the law.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Gapay’s proposal in the Anti-Terror Law is both “illegal and unconstitutional” since “freedom of speech is a sacred and inviolable right of every human being.”

“That will go beyond the real intent of the law and, therefore, it is illegal and unconstitutional… the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech,” said Drilon.

Drilon, one of the senators who voted in favor of the anti-terrorism law, stressed that the IRR “cannot be contrary to the text of the law itself,” saying that Supreme Court cases have held that administrative or executive acts are invalid if they contravene the laws or the Constitution.

“No law can be amended by a mere administrative rule issued for its implementation,” he said.

“Social media is an effective platform for our people to voice out their criticisms against the government.If we insist on implementing the law this way, which is clearly contrary to legislative intent, then we justify the fears aired by the people against the passage of the law. Let us not be so imprudent as to prove to the people that they are right in their distrust of the law’s implementers,” he added.

Gapay earlier said he would propose provisions in the implementing rules and regulations of the Anti-Terror Law that will regulate the usage of social media as it is the platform being used by the “terrorists” to “radicalize” and even plan terrorist acts.

But Drilon argued that there is nothing in the law which would allow enforcers to regulate or control social media.

“A proper governmental purpose may not be achieved by means that unnecessarily sweep its subject broadly, thereby invading the area of protected freedoms,” Drilon added.

Drilon further elaborated that any “act of government that chills expression is subject to nullification or injunction” from the courts—for violation of Section 3, Article III of the 1987 Constitution.

“The threat of restraint, as opposed to actual restraint itself, may deter the exercise of the right to free expression almost as potently as the actual application of sanctions,” he said.

The former Justice secretary explained that if intention is to clamp down on terrorist propaganda posted on social media, there are existing models on how that can be done without the need to regulate social media in general as Youtube videos and soundbites posted by terrorist groups communicating to a wider audience are clearly identifiable and may be taken down.

Drilon voted in favor of the controversial measure that is now pending for review by the Supreme Court. In defending his vote, Drilon said that he had no ulterior motive but to balance the need to protect the Bill of Rights and address the security of the state.

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