The Do-Nothing Panel

An ethics complaint has been filed against Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges is busy preparing for hearings on it.


Unfortunately, those preparations are the same ones the committee was doing more than a year ago: deciding on the rules that it will use in ethics cases.


In January 2011, while Senator Panfilo Lacson was in hiding from the law, the committee’s chairman, Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, set a meeting with the members of his panel. “We will have [an] organizational meeting of the committee on ethics and first agenda will be the rules,” he told reporters then.


“The intention is to assure that I will not be bias or prejudice. We will not make rules in accordance with the pending complaints. I will be a mediator rather than advocate,” Cayetano said.


And Cayetano was true to his promise. The committee did, indeed, not make rules. At all.


The senator said in an interview on DZMM this morning that the committee has to meet again to finalize the rules.


Ang naging status po noong magdedesisyon na kami sa finality  ng rules ng komite noong Hunyo ng nakaraang taon, doon na po pumasok ang mabibigat na hearing sa Senado tungkol sa PCSO scam, sa 2004 at 2007 elections, at iba pang mga hearing. Matapos po nito ay pumasok rin po ang impeachment ni CJ Corona. Kaya ang nangyari po noon, hindi na po masyadong maganda ang attendance ng hearing ng Ethics Committee at hindi na bumalik yung consensus sa gagawing rules.


The senator says there were “several meetings, technical working groups and hearings that were working on the rules of the committee” before the members basically just lost interest. Who, after all, wants to have a mechanism in place to hold senators accountable, a mechanism that might one day be used against him?


Why was there a need to craft new rules for the ethics committee? Cayetano explains in Filipino that, during the 14th Congress, “the Ethics committee became controversial because there were always accusations within the Senate that cases were political in nature, or members of the Senate were using the committee against other members.” He neglects to mention that those accusations came from him and other allies of Senator Manuel Villar Jr., then aspiring for the presidency and facing an ethics probe.


Funnily enough, the head of the Ethics committee at the time was Senator Lacson, who was also Villar’s accuser.


Given the probe on Villar was partly political in nature (and achieved nothing in terms of accountability), Cayetano was right that better rules were needed when trying senators for disorderly conduct. He was wrong in not pushing for those rules to be finalized and adopted. As committee chairman, he certainly had the power to call for meetings and it should not have been impossible to get two to three members of the seven-member panel to attend.


Not shown: The Rules of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges. Because they don’t exist.


In his radio interview this morning, Cayetano mentions failed attempts in past Congresses to come up with a Code of Ethics for senators. He does not mention, however, whether he will try to come up with one.


And this is what is the most irksome about Cayetano. For all his statements and speeches about transparency and justice and good governance, he has done little in the way of legislation. It is not uncommon for his office to issue statements that sound great but are not backed up by bills or resolutions that will actually make things happen.


According to a GMA Network News report in 2011, Cayetano beat only Senator Joker Arroyo in the number of bills and resolutions filed. Considering Arroyo only filed 17 resolutions by then, that is really not saying much.


Guess What? The Cybercrime Law is Totally Legit!

What’s our problem with the Cybercrime Law? None, really, other than the utterly ham-handed insertion of a libel provision, which goes like this:


What’s Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code?  It goes like this:

Art. 355. Libel means by writings or similar means. — A libel committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means, shall be punished by prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods or a fine ranging from 200 to 6,000 pesos, or both, in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party.

This, of course,deserves the question, what is libel? That is answered by Article 353 of the RPC, making this piece of legislation seem more like a magical treasure hunt than a law:

Art. 353. Definition of libel. — A libel is public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead

What the senators did, essentially, was copy-paste the definition of libel (which, as words on a page, are totally sound) into the
Cybercrime Law and slapped “through a computer with the Internets lol” after it.

Because, as Senator Edgardo Angara explains in deliberations recorded in the Senate Journal (which we took the liberty of reading for you): “lol cyberspace, or as they call it, the Internets, is just a new avenue lol for libel lol wtf”

What will this do to you, dear reader, from least to worst-case scenarios? Let’s face it. You’re probably not going to get thrown in
jail for Liking a funny picture of Tito Sotto as Robocop.

We suspect the DOJ Office of Cybercrime, backed by the PNP and NBI, are first going to come down hard on Anonymous Philippines, who so brazenly hacked a fistful of government websites in protest. Also, that Carlos Celdran, because he’s so goddamn outspoken and freeee.

The worst-case scenario, however, is no laughing matter: twelve years in jail, because if you commit crime with a computer, it apparently deserves the next higher degree of punishment. Also, you won’t have the Filipino Freethinkers to bail you out… Celdran.

Nobody is truly free.

But you know all this. What we’re going to talk about is how it happened, and why the production of such a law is ten times scarier
than what’s going to happen to your asshole in jail.

How did it happen? Legally, and through the proper avenues.  Scared yet?

The passage of the Cybercrime Law, libel provision included, followed due process, which means:

1. A senator filed a bill from his brain. In this case, Senator Angara.

2. It was referred to a committee which held hearings, and produced a
committee report.

3.That report was then delivered to twenty-three senators, who are
expected to read and discuss it.

4. The bill went through a period of amendments, a battering of comments like “change this word to that,” “make this illegal,” and “charge 50,000 pesos rather than 10,000.”

5. The bill was voted on twice, and passed twice.

6. The bill was then sent to a bicameral conference committee, AKA the shady number-crunching area, which reported back. With, well, a report.

7. Both Houses of Congress approved that report and sent it to the President for his signature.

8. He signed it.

9. Now it’s in your life. Fucking. You. Up.

Didn’t follow? It means the Cybercrime Law went through no less than presumably three hundred pairs of eyes and three hundred brains –including that of the President of the Philippines — before it decided to. Fuck. You. Up.

What the hell were these senators thinking? Let us, two indolent indios, try to guess.

Maybe the senator was assigned to a different section of the law, or missed the libel provision all together. We’re looking at you, Pia
Cayetano and Chiz Escudero, backpedaling furiously on your votes.

This suggests that our legislators approach lawmaking like college groupwork: a cocktail of dictatorship, halfhearted contribution, and a lot of “Bahala na si Batman.”

Dear senators, read the whole damn thing because you’re going to affix your name to it. Now that the populace has wrapped its collective head around the implications of the libel provision, certain senators are trying to take it back — which obviously means they didn’t read it and are now trying to convince the angry professor that their groupmates fucked up and they’re ready to do extra work to make up for their failing grade.

Maybe the senator skimmed the law. Sure, they read it, and checked off all the obviously bad things like child porn, fraud, and
cyberprostitution, and in the process, blissfully lumped libel into the Scary Things on the Internet category. This implies that libel is
as easy to identify and condemn as child porn and fraud.


It’s not, especially because identifying malice in a badly spelled Facebook status is more complicated, than, say, identifying malice in the act of owning ten gigabytes of naked ten-year-olds.

Child Porn! Fraud! Cyberprostiution! Libel!

Finally, maybe the senator read the law, understood it fully, and approved it anyway. Thirteen out of twenty-three approved it. This is
terrifying, but it’s also the most reasonable thing to assume because it implies that the senators were doing their job.

This also implies that they know that libel has long been used (since American colonial times, in fact) to “keep dissent responsible,” and
in one infamous case,  jail a man for more than two years. It also implies that they’re ready to do the same to us fucktards on the
Internet. But worse: Steeper fines and seizure of your shit. Also, more jail.

It also shows, not just implies, that legislation is based on personal experience and interest.

Take, for example, the insertion of a provision making cybersquatting a crime. Based on the Journal notes, this was not prompted by a legitimate business concern (e.g. vs. but rather the fact that and are taken, with Tito Sotto bitching that “someone else was already using [] and that individual, in fact, asked him for a huge amount of money in return for the right to use the same.” (Lucky for him, is still available. As of
this post.)

It doesn’t take someone smarter than Tito Sotto to assume that the senators who passed the bill were thinking, “Aw fuck yeah, we can
finally shut Professional Heckler down.” Because, come on, what senator has not been criticized on the Internet? Bashing Senator Manuel Villar Jr., one of those who voted for the bill, was even a backyard industry during the 2010 presidential campaign.

Nobody objected to the inclusion of the libel provision, not even Senator Guingona, whose initial opposition stemmed from the imposition of morality on cybersex. Not libel. Among the senators there, though, he was on the right track and has done the most to make up for that oversight. So, go you!

Hey, at least I opposed it.

So now the Cybercrime Law, as of yesterday, is in force. The Palace is being smug, telling us uneducated masses to read the bill in its
entirety and to utilize “proper avenues” for opposing opinions. Fact of the matter is: those proper avenues are precisely what led to this.

Meanwhile, the government is asking us to trust that they will respect our basic rights. Sure, the Aquino administration might. The next president might not. Laws are as solid as Bong Revilla’s biceps, as enduring as Tito Sotto’s mustache. It will take another law to repeal this one, and as the production of Cybercrime Law proves: it’s not a cakewalk.

Upper House of Hypocrisy

Vitaliano Aguirre


Remember this guy?

He was cited for contempt during the Corona impeachment trial for covering his ears while Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago railed at the prosecution for being gago and epal and all sorts of things. This, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said was “a sign of disrespect to a member in this court and that can’t be allowed to pass and must be dealt with according to the rules.”

He was escorted out of the Senate session hall and was banned from appearing before the Senate impeachment court again. All this for covering his ears because a senator was screaming her lungs out. But that is understandable. We must, after all, protect the dignity of the Senate as an institution.

But nothing at all from our esteemed senators over a clear and present danger to the dignity the Senate holds so dearly and guards so jealously: its own majority floor leader making a mockery of discourse, intellectual property, and of the Senate itself.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, ending his multi-part turno en contra (literally “turn against”) speech against the Reproductive Health bill, appears to have appropriated parts of a speech made by the late U.S. senator Robert Kennedy in 1966 and claimed them as his own.

His response to critics who said he had copied someone else’s words again:

I found the idea good. I translated it into Tagalog [Filipino]. So what’s the problem?” Sotto told the Philippine Daily Inquirer when asked about his reaction to the fresh accusations.

“Ano? Marunong nang mag-Tagalog si Kennedy? (What now? Does Kennedy now know how to speak in Tagalog)?” he added.

This, apparently, is par for the course at the Sotto School of Rhetoric. Last month, when he was accused of stealing content from a U.S.-based blogger for use in his speech, he dismissed the accusation as silly.

When his staff later admitted to copying from the blog but without Sotto’s knowledge, the defenses became doubly damning: That copying is normal at the Senate, and that it is all right because it is not a crime.

Despite that, there has been nothing but support from the Senate. Neither Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago nor Senator Pia Cayetano, who are pushing passage of the Reproductive Health bill have said anything.

Enrile has dismissed the plagiarism allegations saying the copying was done in good faith and what matters is whether the copied content was factual or not. Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada’s reaction is even more reason to damn the whole Upper House of Hypocrisy: “I have no business meddling in the affairs of other senators.”

This from an institution that holds hearings on the barest hint of corruption and the slightest chance of TV time. This from an institution that earlier this year voted to remove then Chief justice Renato Corona from office for lying on his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth. This from a Senate that actually did meddle in the affairs of Senator Manuel Villar Jr. when he was accused of getting rich on a supposedly diverted road extension project.