“Anti-selfie” bill co-author withdraws
Cong B. Corrales
THE LIST of authors of a controversial house bill being opposed by journalists and freedom of expression advocates in the Philippines just got shorter.
Former police general Leopoldo Bataoil, now representative of the second district of Pangasinan, withdrew his support for House Bill 4807, according to a journal of the House of Representatives.
The measure is also known as the proposed “Act to Provide Protection From Personal Intrusion for Commercial Purposes” and has been branded by its critics as the “anti-selfie” bill
Bataoil, who also sits as the vice chairman of the Lower House’s committee on public information, declined to be interviewed when sought for comment by the PCIJ.
Asked to comment on Bataoil’s withdrawal, Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, the bill’s main author, had only this to say: “I thank him.”
Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines (PCP) chairman Mike Alquinto welcomed the development but reiterated their group’s position on the bill.
“The call of PCP is still the same; the bill should be scrapped from the committee’s (public information) agenda,” said Alquinto.
Last Tuesday, photojournalists and freedom of expression advocates massed up at the South Gate of the Batasang Pambansa Compound to dramatize their opposition to the bill. Alquinto had said that there are already existing laws and provisions in the Constitution that protect every citizen’s right to privacy.
“We do not need this bill. If this bill is passed into law, this will only be used to harass, and file cases against us who are only doing our job in giving out information to the public,” Alquinto said.
Rodriguez had earlier told PCIJ that the bill was already history. However, in a copy of the letter he sent to the Lower House’s committee on rules Rodriguez stated that he is only “re-committing” the bill back to the committee of public information for further deliberation. Only this time, media organizations opposing the bill would be invited in the committee discussions.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), earlier, had sounded alarm bells to warn that the measure, once passed into law, could drag the entire country back to the dark ages in terms of the right to free press and expression.
“In an era where technology is quickly breaking down the obstacles that hamper the flow of information and expressions, which are the bedrock of democracy, HB 4807 could return us to the dark ages and worse, be used as a weapon of suppression and repression,” NUJP chairperson Roweana Paraan.
While the NUJP agrees that all citizens are entitled to privacy, Paraan added, the Philippine Constitution has, in fact, guaranteed such right in all matter that are personal and have nothing to do with public interest. However, she said, the intent of the bill is so broad that it is likely to be used as another “weapon for the criminal and the corrupt to escape accountability.”
A REPORTER takes a “selfie” of himself outside the gates of the House of Congress in Quezon City, Philippines | Photo by Cong B. Corrales
Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has weighed in on the measure and has joined its local affiliate—NUJP—in calling for the authors of HB 4807 to withdraw the bill and for the members of the Lower House to vote against it should the bill not be withdrawn.
“The impact that the so-dubbed anti-selfie bill will have on media freedom and expression in the Philippines is evident. Not only does the law have implications for media institutions and journalists, but the impacts will be felt across the country and hinder the growth of citizen journalism, which has an integral role in future media environments,” Jane Worthington, IFJ Asia Pacific Acting Director, said.
IFJ is the world’s largest organization of journalists. First established in 1926, it was relaunched in 1946 and again, in its present form, in 1952. To date, IFJ represents around 600,000 members in 134 countries.
Not an ‘Anti-Selfie Bill’
In the letter, Rodriguez’ reason for re-committing the bill was because “malicious and uninformed statements of some members of the House of Representatives has been mistakenly dubbed as the ‘Anti-Selfie Bill’ and has been met with strong opposition particularly by the media.”
For his part, Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Karlos Zarate said there was nothing malicious in labelling HB 4807 as an “Anti-Selfie Bill.”
“You have to call it (HB4807) for what it really is so that it will be understood immediately. The definition of intrusion of privacy under the bill is so broad that even an innocuous selfie with public figures accidentally caught in the background would be liable for intrusion of privacy,” said Zarate.
Zarate enjoined his colleagues in the lower house to reconsider since the bill “will create a chilling effect not only to the mainstream media practitioners but also citizen journalists.”
“Besides, we have more than enough laws that protect our right to privacy,” he added.
Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Neri Colmenares, on the other hand, said that even the media covering the Lower House did not know about the bill until it was brought to their attention.
“True to the intent of the bill, it was filed privately. Very private ‘yung pagkapasa nya and nobody really knew until the photojournalists came to my office that fateful day (August 12),” Colmenares said.
With Bataoil’s withdrawal of support, those who are left listed as the bill’s co-authors are: Cebu 3rd District Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, Buhay partylist Rep. Jose Atienza, Bulacan 4th District Rep. Linabelle Ruth Villarica, and Misamis Occidental 1st District Rep. Jorge Almonte.
Almonte also chairs the committee on public information.