Update: The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom (MCPIF) has been refiled for the 16th Congress.
PHNetDems statement when Senator Santiago filed the MCPIF in the Senate as Senate Bill No. 53
Statement of PHNetDems when Representative Kimi Cojuangco filed the MCPIF in the House of Representatives as House Bill 1086.
This is the story of how six ordinary, tech- and internet-savvy citizens, over three hundred online onlookers on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Docs, and a number of their politically-connected friends brought the dream of a Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom to the august halls of the Senate of the Republic of the Philippines, and found in Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago a champion for civil and political rights in cyberspace.
On a normal weekday afternoon — or at least what passes for normal in the local scene of social media and the Internet — a number of people on Twitter (“tweeps”) were discussing the transmittal of the bicameral conference committee report of SB 2796 and HB 5808 (respectively, the Senate and House of Representatives versions of the Anti-Cybercrime Law). There was a general feeling of unease, despite a few of them believing that President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III would not be so foolish as to sign a law that was completely against the principles his parents lived and died for.
Persuaded by the idea, or at least holding on to such a hope, the tweeps decided that the time had come to find a means to overturn the status quo. The status quo, in their belief, was the lack of understanding of government in general and legislators in particular of information and communications technology and the Internet, and that the crafting of laws governing their areas of interest could not be allowed to be shoddy work by the technologically semi-illiterate. It was up to these tweeps to craft something that made sense, and then present it to legislators for their consideration.
These tweeps, many of them active bloggers, and all of them having been active in the blogosphere at one time or another, have had been acquainted with one another, via online channels or offline during meetups, fora, and summits; the concepts had been clear and fleshed-out in their minds after years of debate and discussion. It took the news of a possible enactment of a poorly-written Anti-Cybercrime Law to spur these tweeps into action.
On August 29, 2012, @ninaterol, a member of Senator Francisco Pangilinan’s staff, acting not in her capacity as a staff member but as an interested private citizen, set up a Facebook page that was to serve as an online home for these tweeps, who then called themselves the “PH Bloggers Bill of Rights Working Group” (later PH Netizens Bill of Rights Working Group). Soon after, @jesterinexile and @cocoy, working on publicly-viewable and editable Google Docs files, began laying down the framework of what they began to call the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom, or MCPIF. Members of the Facebook group provided suggestions, discussed positions, and gained consensus over the fundamental principles of the draft as it was taking shape. However, progress was slow, up until several days later, when the news reports caused a virtual earthquake in the online space.
On September 12, 2012, President Aquino signed into law RA 10175, the Anti-Cybercrime Law. On Twitter emotions ran high, and online reaction was swift. As far as the tweeps could see, disbelief, anger, and disgust seemed to permeate their niche of Philippine cyberspace; “betrayal” was a word bandied about when referring to the President. Almost instantaneously, those watching over the progress of the drafting of the MCPIF saw the need to push as hard as possible to get it out and thus repeal and replace RA 10175.
While other netizens and concerned citizens, even some fellow members in the Facebook group, found themselves busy with efforts to secure a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court versus RA 10175, a small group remained to continue working on the MCPIF, with @francisacero, @ageofbrillig, and @ceso providing support on legal language, while @juned worked mainly on drumming up interest for the document, via attendance in and facilitation of various events. One of them was on October 4, 2012, where in a meeting with Senator Pia Cayetano the team agreed to share with the senator’s staff their progress, but nothing further happened. Another was on October 10, 2012, where the team discussed other initiatives from concerned groups and found they did not go far enough in promoting civil, political, and economic rights in cyberspace. The team also reached out to Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, shortly after he filed SB 3300, the “Crowdsourcing Act of 2012”, willing to show the senator that the aspirations of his proposal were already being practiced by the MCPIF team, but did not get any response until weeks later.
It was a hectic time; the members of the MCPIF team had full-time jobs and commitments of their own, both local and foreign, and could carve out time for the initiative only with great difficulty. Progress on the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom was also slowing down, as none of the team members had the time to research legal arcana related to the final touches to the proposal.
It was at this low point when @ceso informed the team that she had been able to communicate with the staff of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Emails were exchanged, and a meeting was set up.
On October 29, 2012, the MCPIF team had a fruitful discussion with the staff of Senator Santiago. The senator’s staff picked up from where the MCPIF team (by then calling themselves Democracy.Net.PH or @PHNetDems) left off in the draft; the PHNetDems waited anxiously for a few days for any word, and were pleasantly surprised and not a little awed by the completion and polishing done by the senator’s staff. Final discussions were done via email exchanges, and the next few days were spent by the PHNetDems spending a lot of time clicking “Refresh” buttons.
On November 12, 2012, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed Senate Bill 3327, “An Act Establishing a Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom, Cybercrime Prevention and Law Enforcement, and Cyberdefense and National Cybersecurity.”
The story is far from over.
As this is being written, efforts are underway to promote citizen participation in this bill. Even with the support of an eminent constitutionalist, international law expert, and civil rights advocate that is Senator Santiago, there remains the need for broader participation of ordinary citizens in the legislative process. While the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom could very well be the first crowdsourced piece of legislation in the Philippine Senate (or for that matter, of the entire Philippine legislature), there is no substitute for real work done by real people in the real world.
This is where you good people can come in.
1. Join the continuing discussions, especially in the new home of the PHNetDems on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/Democracy.Net.PH/). The crowdsourcing effort has not stopped; instead, it has moved on to the next level — that of taking online participation offline.
2. Support the progress of the bill. Lobby for the filing of its counterpart in the House of Representatives.
3. Promote and support the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom. Get in touch with your favorite congressman and senator, ask them to get involved in the process.
With your support, the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom can not only become the poster child for crowdsourcing because of the way it was drafted, but can also become proof that citizen participation helps ensure good government and wise legislation. Get some skin in this game — it’s for the country.