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Okay, AFP wants to “regulate” social media—what now?

In the middle of the alarming increase in COVID-19 cases, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) plans to focus its energy on “regulating” social media posts—whatever that means for them.

The new AFP chief Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay has a fresh hot take he wants to try. Today, Aug. 3, he announced his desire to regulate our soc med use under the controversial Anti-Terror Law.

“We will capitalize on this very, very good Anti-Terror Law. Pinaplano pa lang nila, ma-stop na natin,” said Gapay in a press briefing from Camp Aguinaldo.

With folks getting arrested pre-ATL over social media posts critical of the government, it looks like we already had a preview of AFP’s desire for “social media regulation.” 

“We need to have specific provisions on this, pertaining to the use of social media,” explained Gapay, noting that terrorist organizations use various social media platforms to concoct their devious schemes against the government and its citizens. Although, he didn’t cite an example. 

Before Gapay’s statement in the press briefing, the government has already had a field day arresting and issuing subpoenas to critics over a number of social media posts. Take Senator Bong Go’s social media critics for instance. Just two weeks ago, several users, including a student, received subpoenas over their posts against the neophyte senator. It wasn’t disclosed what specific posts got them a subpoena in the first place. 

Another jarring incident was a social studies teacher getting arrested over his satirical post against President Rodrigo Duterte. In his post, he offered a P50 million reward to anyone who could kill Duterte. The amount he indicated was the same amount as Duterte’s bounty to anyone who can find a vaccine for COVID-19.

Gapay’s proposal was made in consideration of the ATL’s pending implementing rules and regulations. According to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in the same press conference, these are still a “work in progress” and are currently awaiting other suggestions like the AFP chief’s stance on social media use. 

If Gapay’s suggestion pushes through under ATL, social media critics can expect harsher arrests and penalties for their posts. This includes detention without a court-issued warrant that can go for 24 days.

Lawyers, in an interview with Rappler, have warned how ATL can be used to go after critics of the government on social media. Before this law, folks were already arrested over their social media posts expressing dissent—what more if Gapay’s suggestion gets approved?

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