No social media regulation, Lorenzana says, but AFP cites need to keep it away from terrorists

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 5) — As if the Anti-Terrorism Act was not controversial enough, the newly-appointed chief of the Armed Forces said the measure should regulate the use of social media, drawing flak from netizens.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a statement on Wednesday said he too was surprised when he heard Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay raise the issue of social media regulation in a news briefing early this week. Lorenzana, who was seated beside Gapay during the press conference, later asked for clarification.

“He (Gapay) said his explanation was incomplete,” Lorenzana said.

“According to him he meant the darknet, that clandestine network that peddles drugs, traffic people, sells guns and explosives, hire assassins and other illegal activities,” the defense chief added, with a note that these underground operations are also difficult to curb.

Lorenzana stressed that the Anti-Terrorism Act does not and should never regulate social media, since that “would violate freedom of speech and discourse.”

READ: Online personalities to SC: Anti-terrorism law dangerous in hands of ‘hypersensitive’ gov’t officials

However, in a separate statement released by Armed Forces spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, he said Gapay wanted to "[put] the use of SocMed to order" to ensure that terrorists will not be able to use any social networking site for terrorist activities and recruitment.

Arevalo said Gapay was taking into account the 2017 Marawi siege which left over 1,100 people dead. During the war that lasted for five months, the military reportedly asked Facebook to take down dozens of fake accounts suspected to be used by the Maute terror group and its sympathizers.

Tracking the terrorists’ online activities is therefore among Gapay’s proposals to the Anti-Terrorism Council, which is crafting the implementing rules and regulations of the contested measure.

"But if he is to give this as an input to the IRR being crafted, he does so while aware that the AFP is just one among other agencies to be consulted and his view is subject to constitutional limitations, existing laws, and regulations," Arevalo said.

“The AFP assures the public that it will not curtail and instead protect the people’s right to free speech, assembly, and redress of grievances as enshrined in the Constitution,” he added.

Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, signed into law on July 3, has yet to be fully implemented since law enforcers are waiting for the IRR. But it is now the most challenged law at the Supreme Court, with at least 22 petitions seeking to declare it unconstitutional.

Among its contentious provisions is extending the time suspected terrorists can be arrested and detained without warrant, from three days under the previous law, to up to 24 days. Critics said the new measure relaxes safeguards on human rights and is open to abuse, but lawmakers who authored and sponsored the measure maintained that law-abiding citizens should not fear it.