Online Tokhang? Admin critics see gov’t crackdown shifting to cyberworld
MANILA, Philippines – It appears that not only workplaces have gone online in view of the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to opposition personalities, the government’s “tokhang” program has already shifted to an online format as several individuals were rounded up for either threatening or making fun of President Rodrigo Duterte.
This observation was raised by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate after reports came out that a public teacher was arrested for offering a P50-million reward for anyone who could kill Duterte, while a salesman from Agusan del Norte was nabbed for implying that Duterte’s long-time aide, Senator Bong Go, has been playing hero in the ABS-CBN issue.
“It appears that there is an ongoing ‘tokhang’ in cyberspace now that even criticisms against officials are no longer allowed, let alone tolerated as part of free speech or free expression guaranteed in our constitution,” Zarate claimed.
In the case of the Agusan del Sur salesman, Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno agreed with Zarate in saying that police officers cannot just accost persons by just saying he “committed” cyber libel, as court judges are more inclined to know whether there is probable cause to issue an arrest order for such cases — especially since there is no complainant.
Diokno, Dean of De La Salle University’s College of Law, explained that police can only conduct warrantless arrests when crimes are about to be or being committed in front of them, but not libel which requires the knowledge of judges.
“The limited authority given to the police to arrest without warrant is only for crimes that occur in their presence. Crimes like libel (especially those where no complaint is filed) were never meant to be the subject of warrantless arrests,” Diokno said in a tweet. “Only judges are equipped with the knowledge and impartiality to decide if a person should be jailed for libel.”
The limited authority given to the police to arrest without warrant is only for crimes that occur in their presence. Crimes like libel (specially those where no complaint is filed) were never meant to be the subject of warrantless arrests.
— Chel Diokno (@ChelDiokno) May 14, 2020
Only judges are equipped with the knowledge and impartiality to decide if a person should be jailed for libel.ADVERTISEMENT
— Chel Diokno (@ChelDiokno) May 14, 2020
“If the charge is cyber libel, I don’t believe the police can just effect any arrest without a complaint from the person being libeled. If these zealots truly intend to arrest just anybody who badmouths somebody, they should start arresting, too, ranking government officials, like the President himself,” Zarate added.
Aside from the two above incidents, another man who said that he would double the high school teacher’s bounty just for Duterte’s death was also arrested.
The issue of arresting dissenters is one of the several criticisms hurled towards the administration since the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Philippine shores.
Several people on social media found it distasteful for government to pursue critics when the government is drawing flak due to allegations of inadequate COVID-19 response, lack of mass testing, questionable provision of social aid, human rights violations, and government officials breaking quarantine protocols.
The Commission on Human Rights earlier asked the government to ensure that the free speech, albeit limited, is still respected during a public health emergency due to COVID-19.
Previously, ACT party-list Rep. France Castro chided the arrest of the public school teacher as it shows the government’s double standards. She said that if the teacher was charged with violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials, Duterte should also face the same fate for badmouthing people, openly talking about killings, and disrespecting women.
Diokno gave the same sentiments, saying that the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies should be out to serve the people, and not protect the interests of the President.
“Pano aarestuhin ng PNP itong salesman na minura ang Pangulo kung Pangulo nga mismo e minura ang senador, Santo Papa, ang Simbahan, at napakarami pang iba?” he said.
“Hindi trabaho ng PNP protektahan ang Pangulo sa opinyon ng taumbayan. Ang trabaho nyo e protektahan ang taumbayan,” he added.
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