ICT Office, Quezon City, Philippines – Foundation for Media Alternatives in cooperation with the Information and Communications Technology Office (DOST-ICTO), the Internet Society of the Philippines, the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA.ph), and 8Layer Technologies Inc. gathered for the whole-day forum for the discussion of the Philippine Declaration on Internet Rights and Principles. The working declaration was concretized by multiple stakeholders on the first-ever forum on Internet Governance, Human Rights, and Development in March 2015.

Alleviating Inequality

The morning session was initiated by Mr. Randy Tuano, the chairperson of the Foundation for Media Alternatives who stressed on the role of the internet towards the alleviation of social inequality. After discussing salient points on how the internet can change the dynamics of our everyday lives, Mr. Tuano focuses on the active participation of all the stakeholders in the declaration: “…mahalaga ang pagtutulong-tulong ng mga organisasyon sa pagbuo ng deklarasyon ng karapatang pantao sa internet at ng mga prinsipyo nito.”

Maria Teresa Magno-Garcia, Director of the Administrative, Financial and Management Services of the ICT Office also provided a statement in solidarity with the declaration. Being in the same boat as Mr. Tuano, Dir. Garcia focuses on the collaboration of the organizations to secure the future of the country through the standards of the declaration. She mentions that this collective ideal is summarized through the ten points which are:

  1. Internet Access for All
  2. Democratizing the Architecture of the Internet
  3. Freedom of Expression and Association
  4. Right to Privacy and Protection of Personal Data
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Openness and Access to Information, Knowledge, and Culture
  7. Socio-Economic Empowerment and Innovation
  8. Education and Digital Literacy
  9. Liberty, Safety, and Security on the Internet
  10. Internet and ICTs for Environmental Sustainability

Dir. Garcia concludes by saying that closing the gap of the Digital Divide is of importance in accordance to the declaration; of which, the government is responsible to respond to through the Free Wi-Fi in Public Places project.

 

Defending Human Rights Offline and Online

To open the discussion on Defending Human Rights Offline and Online, Mr. Max de Mesa, the chairperson of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), made a stark comparison between human dignity and human rights. “Human Dignity is the origin of Human Rights,” Mr. de Mesa says, “therefore, one can say that Human Rights are developments from Human Dignity.” He then quotes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, focusing on the preamble whose first statement is: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

He deepens the discussion further, stressing that a person’s rights aren’t just words on a paper, but a matter of life and death. “Ang mga karapatan ay hindi lamang na[su]sulat—ito ay ating isinasabuhay. Tanggalin mo ang isa at mawawala ang lahat.” Human Rights are indivisible, and by closing the gap of the Digital Divide, as mentioned by Dir. Garcia, the government also responds to its obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights.

Human Rights, therefore, is vital, crucial, and decisive. Mr. de Mesa closes by citing laws that protect the Filipinos’ Online rights, specifically on the freedom of expression; naming the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 19 General Comment 34, Paragraph 43; United Nations Special Rapporteur: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue; and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which was signed earlier this year.

Kabataan Partylist Representative Terry Ridon, an author of the Free Wi-Fi bill, took the stage and stressed on the importance of ICT in the coming generations. He states that by declaring the internet rights and principles, we also urge our future leaders to take a stand regarding the ICT development in the country. He asks the organizers, namely FMA, to adapt IBPAP’s presidentiable forum, wherein they discuss specific topics in the industry. The declaration shall become a litmus test which will separate the wheat from presidential chaffs when it comes to ICT.  Hon. Ridon summarizes that through developing the declaration, we are moving towards concretizing policies for Internet Freedom and Internet Rights, and at the same time, we pave the way for the Internet Agenda for 2016 as we create National Conversations on IT that can answer issues such as the commitments to its development and a standard internet speed for the country.

Towards a Philippine Declaration on Internet Rights and Principles

According to FMA Internet Rights Coordinator, Ms. Nica Dumlao, the creative process of the declaration was a product of the convention they created earlier on this year, gathering concerned stakeholders in the forum. The group also gathered “offline consultations” from people who are not knowledgeable about the Internet, as well as far-flung communities to ask them what they want to achieve through the power of internet. For instance, Cebu wants to advocate children’s rights as a response to the cybersex den problem in their region; on the other hand, Davao clamors for peace to be their advocacy. As a result of the discussion, several drafts were made for the declaration.

Mr. Winthrop Yu of the Internet Society of the Philippines and Bombim Cadiz of the PHNet discussion co-led the dialogue regarding most of the claims in the declaration. Salient points in the discussion centered on having Internet Access for All, and Democratizing the Architecture of the Internet. Mr. Yu stated that “Internet for All” not only means that citizens are provided with access; he takes it a step further, saying that “everyone should be able to contribute and shape the internet.”

They also discussed topics such as the current concerns of the Philippine Internet ecosystem. According to Mr. Cadiz, “There is an imbalance in the internet ecosystem because there are companies who control a majority of the market place—small players would have to adapt to [standards created by the big ones].” Among the topics were internet traffic discrimination, the statutes from the Cybercrime Law that require amendments, and the need for open, permissionless internet access; which was followed by an open forum.

Following Mr. Yu and Mr. Cadiz, Atty. Marnie Tonson discussed the topic of Freedom of Expression and Association. Briefly, he reviewed the Indivisibility of Human Rights and Principles, but specifically focused on the points of discussion for the vague instances of criminal cases involving the freedom of expression, making a case for what is necessary and proportionate in the arbitration of the cases involving these topics. He states: “Everyone has the right to liberty and security on the internet. It is not aspirational; it is set as a standard…[therefore, it supports] the idea that freedom of expression is allowing dissent to speak.”  This point is very personal for Atty. Tonson since the husband of one of his colleagues from Brunei is facing three years of prison time due to a Facebook post that had anti-military sentiments.

Closing the discussion were people from different organizations who expressed their support for the declaration. More notable ones were Atty. Regie Tongol who says: “ICT plays a vital role in the industry, therefore it is in the interest of the state who shall hold the power,” and Tonyo Cruz of the JuanVote movement who is pushing for internet reforms in the context for the upcoming elections. Loosely quoting him, he states: “The Free Wi-Fi Project provides avenues for more citizen involvement. Imagine a real-time view of what is happening on the communities [during election time].”

In conclusion, FMA urged everyone to share the declaration in order for the internet rights and principles be known to other people. They are requesting everyone to be involved in forging a better version of the declaration by being proactive in the coming years.

The Declaration on Internet Rights and Principles can be accessed through this website:
http://internetrightsdeclaration.fma.ph/