Interpellation

Last Thursday I rose to interpellate Manila Rep. Benny Abante, the principal sponsor of the Right of Reply bill. I focused my interpellation on the inclusion of websites and other electronic devices in the measure. I also inquired about the bill’s impact on the campus press. The interpellation lasted 46 minutes. It was my first time to interpellate a fellow member in the House of Representatives.

Section 1 of HB 3306 (Right of Reply) states, “All persons natural or judicial who are accused directly or indirectly of committing, having committed, or are criticized by innuendo, suggestion or rumor for any lapse in behavior in public or private life shall have the right to reply to charges or criticisms published in newspapers, magazines, newsletters or publications circulated commercially or for free, or aired or broadcast over radio, television, websites or through any electronic device.”

The sponsor confirmed that even non-news websites are included in the scope of the bill. This is dangerous. This means even non-journalists will be affected by the measure. This is bad news for bloggers. Sakop din dito ang mga email, social network sites, at mga online forum.

The sponsor mentioned that there is nothing to fear if websites are included in the bill since comments, replies, and exchange of views are already common in the internet. I agreed with the sponsor but I added that publication of comments and replies is voluntary. A blogger can always refuse to upload a statement or reply of a reader. The Right of Reply bill will change the way we maintain our personal websites. It will alter our internet reading habit. It will change the behavior of bloggers, online forum commenters, and website readers as they relate to one another.

I also emphasized the difficulty of identifying news websites in the internet because of the changing media landscape. I spoke about the rise of the new media which is already recognized by many scholars as the future of journalism. I warned the sponsor that the Right of Reply bill might become the first law in the country which would be used to harass, silence, or censor dissident bloggers or website owners.

The sponsor is in favor of creating a regulatory board to oversee the local content of the cyberspace.

I forgot to ask the sponsor about the impact of the bill on anonymous websites. Will the Right of Reply law empower the government to compel a website owner or company to divulge the account information of anonymous website members or users? Gagayahin ba natin ang China?

Texters beware

I asked the sponsor what kind of electronic devices are included in the bill. He mentioned mobile phones. Mag-ingat sa pagforward ng mga text; kasama yan sa Right of Reply.

Even iPods and other mp3 players are included. Don’t forget e-book readers.

I honestly do not know how the government will implement the Right of Reply law if cell phones and other electronic devices are to be included in its scope. The sponsor said these tiny concerns will be solved once the government drafts an Implementing Rules and Regulation document.

The sponsor is also welcoming amendments to improve the bill.

Campus press

Section 3 of the bill states, “The reply of the accused or criticized shall be published or broadcast not later than one day after the reply shall have been delivered to the editorial office of the publication concerned…”

I reminded the sponsor that student organs would not be able to fulfill this legal requirement. There are no campus papers which have a daily circulation. The sponsor replied that the amended version of the bill (a so-called watered-down version of the bill exists somewhere) would allow editors to publish the reply on the next issue of their paper. Pero paano kapag ang nagkaroon ng kontrobersiya ay ang huling isyu ng publikasyon? Pupuwersahin pa rin ba ang susunod na editorial board na maglaan ng espasyo para sa dinedemandang tugon ng taong nagsampa ng kaso? Ang gulo!

Still on the amended version: The new version states that the reply will be published subject to availability of space and airtime. This is not applicable for websites.

Advice

I heard members of the Minority suggesting that we should move to recommit the bill. The committee should first finalize the document. Naguguluhan kami kung ang tinatalakay ba sa plenary ay ang original document o yung tinatawag nilang amended document.

The amended bill is still unacceptable. The country does not need a Right of Reply law, even if it is a watered-down, toothless measure. Only publishers who are cozy with the supreme powers of the land are not afraid of this Right of Reply proposal.

I have to reiterate that the Right of Reply bill which was already passed by the Senate would not just affect journalists and other mainstream media practitioners. The bill involves practically everyone: journalists, bloggers, facebookers, texters, iPod users. We should exercise our Right to Reject this unnecessary, and perhaps unconstitutional measure.

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 9, 2009 at 11:13 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hello Congressman Mong! 😀

    First of all I’m really glad that Kabataan Party had finally gained a seat in Congress. Even if I wasn’t a member of your party then, I had actively campaigned for your party in the last elections. I’m really thrilled that I had been part of bringing the first youth representative in the Congress, congrats!

    Regarding this Right of Reply bill, I’m really quite disturbed that this administration had been recently pushing for bills and laws that are for their benefit. They started it with the ‘legalization’ of the extra-judicial killings by passing the Human Security Act then they now want to silence the dissent by this Right to Reply.

    It seems that they are preparing for something else, maybe Martial Law.

    I just hope their ‘evil’ plans won’t succeed with good guys like you who are really ‘serving the Filipino people!’ You have all of my support! I think I’m not allowed to use this but allow me to: ‘On and On for the people!’ 😀

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