By Raïssa Robles
The four were Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Edgardo Angara, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.
The highly technical bills they filed were nearly all the same in wording, sentence construction, paragraph order and even punctuation marks.
There are two questions here:
1.Why were they identical?
2.Was there a common source?
Let me answer the second question first. This morning, Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Secretary Geronimo Sy held a press conference to explain and defend to the media how the Cybercrime Law would work. Sy could play a key role in the DOJ’s anti-Cybercrime Unit.
But there was one thing Sy neglected to tell the media: He was the one who had given the drafts of the Cybercrime Bill to the four senators.
“The proposal came from Assec Sy,” Tala Maralit, the chief legislative staff of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile told me this afternoon when I asked her who had drafted Senate President Enrile’s Senate Bill No. 134 (SBN 134 filed July 5, 2010) and why it was almost identical with the Cybercrime bills of three other senators, namely:
SBN 52 of Senator Edgardo Angara (filed on July 10, 2009)
SBN 2534 of Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (filed on September 22, 2010)
SBN 2721 of Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla (filed February 28, 2011)
Think about it: the government agency that would implement the Cybercrime Law, the agency that would wind up with huge and vague (critics say “repressive”) police powers was the very same one that had written the draft law and pushed it in Congress to begin with.
Furthermore, the very same person — Assec Sy — who physically gave copies of the draft bill to the four senators could end up occupying a key post in the Commission on Information and Communications Technology – the anti-Cybercrime Unit that this law will create.
But I’m getting ahead of my story. I will explain later the other implications of having Assec Sy – the very man who had pushed for this legislation – probably sit as head of this powerful unit that will have a say on blocking websites and filing criminal lawsuits against violators of the Cybercrime Law. I interviewed Assec Sy on the matter.
Anyway, let me start from the beginning.
I stumbled on this story by accident, when I was working to verify something else, which was the assertion by Senator Pia Cayetano that she had nothing to do with two of the Cybercrime Law’s particularly offensive provisions — the ones authorizing government to perform “real-time collection of traffic data” (what critics call in effect, illegal surveillance of all digital devices) and to “take down” (more accurately, block) websites that government deemed violated the Cybercrime Law.
Because of the vague way the Senate records were structured and written, I had published an article saying that Cayetano had moved for those provisions, whereas it turned out she had not. I corrected my story and issued an apology.
To view it, please read – To the staff of Senator Pia Cayetano,
But in the process of verifying this, I went through a lot of documents I downloaded from the Senate website.
That was when — to my surprise — I discovered that four of the filed bills on Cybercrime were practically copies of each other.
You can download these bills yourself on the Senate website by going to this link and typing “cybercrime” on the title/subject space.
Here’s a screencap of what you will see:
For those who prefer not to or can’t, I copied and pasted the four bills section-by-section for easier comparison. You can view them by clicking on the post entitled:
Let me point out one thing first. As far as I can tell, NONE of the 16 Senate bills and three Senate resolutions filed on cybercrime dealt with or mentioned “online libel” or “cyberdefamation”.
Cyberdefamation was initially contained in the House cybercrime bill version. But in the Senate version, this was officially inserted by Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III during the January 24, 2012 plenary session.
We can reasonably conclude, therefore, that online libel was never tackled at the Senate committee level. Nor was it ever the subject of a public hearing. Nor were netizens and news media organizations with websites ever given a chance to react to this insertion before the passage of the Cybercrime Law.
Moving on to other points:The controversial provision giving authorities the power to conduct “Real Time Collection of Traffic Data” was contained in the four Senate bills that came from Assec Sy.
Recall that I had asked Maralit who heads Senate President Enrile’s staff on legislation for the identity of the person who had drafted Enrile’s SBN 134 on cybercrime. She said:
The proposal came from Assec Sy. He (Sy) might have had other lawyers from the DOJ come up with the draft. It’s just that it was him who presented the bill to us. Last Congress pa. During GMA time. [He presented it as early as the last Congress during the time of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.]
Maralit explained to me that after Enrile was reelected in 2010, he had refiled the same bill as SBN 134 in the current 15th Congress. I asked Maralit if Enrile had changed anything in the draft that Assec Sy had handed to him, before Enrile officially filed it as SBN 134.
As is. No, na po. [No, not anymore, Maam.]
I asked Maralit why Enrile’s SBN 134 was almost an exact copy of the cybercrime bills filed separately by Senators Bongbong Marcos, Bong Revilla and the law’s main sponsor Edgardo Angara.
In the process of legislation, if there is a priority legislation coming from the executive (department), they usually ask other senators to author or file a similar version. That must have been why our version is almost exactly the same as other bills filed by other senators.
I also tried reaching Senators Angara, Revilla and Marcos by phone but could not get through. I therefore e-mailed them but have not received any reply up to now.
Assec Sy confirmed what Maralit said. He also confirmed it was he who handed the three other senators a draft that they then filed under their own names.
Assec Sy added:
You should have seen in the last (14th) Congress, there were more than four (senators filing the same draft as their bills.) The Senate version almost passed but did not make it for lack of time. That was how close it was in the last Congress.
When I asked Assec Sy whether it was he who had personally handed over the drafts to the four senators and whether he himself had prepared the drafts, he replied:
It’s not correct to say I handed it over. In the process of things, it’s a filing by a legislator. I don’t want to claim credit or discredit for a particular bill. It (the cybercrime bill) has always been a product of a Technical Working Group since the year 2000, since the “I love you” virus. (Note: Sy was referring to the famous “I love You” virus that affected computers and websites worldwide in the year 2000. Alan wrote about it in his site, here’s an old copy of his report http://www.hotmanila.ph/leantech/lovepower.htm)
Assec Sy added:
I can’t claim credit. No one person is responsible for a bill or a law.
He told me that a Technical Working Group had been churning out drafts through the years. So I asked him to name the members of the TWG, but he said he could not recall because the members changed through the years and the group had been meeting since 2001 and even before the passage of the E-Commerce Act.
Assec Sy said:
It’s always been a composite group. No one institution can draft a law of that nature that blends policy, law and technology in one document….How to make it work, put safeguards, and make sure we protect cyberspace – those are the priorities.
I told him my misgivings about having a DOJ official propose “huge and vague powers” for its department without safeguards. Assec Sy replied:
I think it’s not fair to phrase the question that way, that I gave it huge and vague powers. As I said earlier, it’s a technical working group (TWG) output.
I therefore qualified my statement by pointing to the section that gave law enforcement authorities the power to obtain “Real Time Collection of Traffic Data”. I told Assec Sy that Section 11 in Enrile’s SBN 134 and Senator Bongbong Marcos’ SBN 2534 were exact copies. And both saw no need to find “due cause” and obtain a “court warrant” before exercising this power.
Here is Senate President Enrile’s Section 11:
SEC. 11. Real-time Collection of Traffic Data. – Law enforcement authorities shall be authorized to collect or record by technical or electronic means, and/or to require cooperation from a service provider in the collection or recording of, traffic data, in real-time, associated with specified communications transmitted by means of a computer system by issuing a collection order.
And here is Senator Bongbong Marcos':
SECTION 11. Real-time collection of traffic data. – Law enforcement authorities shall be authorized to collect or record by technical or electronic means, and/or to require cooperation from a service provider in the collection or recording of, traffic data, in real-time, associated’ with specified communications transmitted by means of a computer system by issuing a collection order.
Assec Sy conceded they were the same in both versions but he claimed the powers weren’t “huge and vague.”
However, I pointed out to him that these two versions contrasted with those of Section 9 in the cybercrime bills of Senator Angara and Senator Bong Revilla. Both required authorities to first establish “due cause” and obtain “a court warrant” before doing any “Real-time Collection of Computer Data”.
Here is Senator Angara’s Section 9:
SEC. 9. Real-time Collection of Computer Data. — Law enforcement authorities, with due cause, and upon securing a court warrant, shall be authorized to collect or record by technical or electronic means, and service providers are required to collect or record by technical or electronic means, and/or to cooperate and assist law enforcement authorities in the collection or recording of, traffic data, in real-time, associated with specified communications transmitted by means of a computer system.
Here is Senator Bong Revilla’s Section 9 which is exactly the same:
SECTION 9. Real-time Collection of Computer Data. Law enforcement authorities, with due cause, and upon securing a court warrant, shall be authorized to collect or record by technical or electronic means, and service providers are required to collect or record by technical or electronic means, and/or to cooperate and assist law enforcement authorities in the collection or recording of, traffic data, in real-time, associated with specified communications transmitted by means of a computer system.
Assec Sy said I should check the version of the cybercrime bill that was approved in the last Congress. He said that reflected best what powers the TWG wanted authorities to have.
When, last week, I had told my hubby and editor Alan about my discovery of the four identical bills, he told me to answer the following questions:
- Why are the bills nearly identical?
- Were the senators reading each others’ minds? Were they sharing bills? (But if that was the case, they did not need to file any but merely had to tell the main sponsor, Senator Edgardo Angara, they wanted to become co-authors.)
- Did one person or organization write all these bills and merely went around the Senate looking for sponsors? If yes, who might that person or group be?
- What was the real objective?
- Why did senators have no compunction about filing nearly identical bills?
Assec Sy and Enrile’s office had answered all of Alan’s questions except one- “What is the real objective of the cybercrime law?”
And — for that matter — why did the four senators have no compunction about filing nearly identical bills? Those will be answered in my next story.
Meanwhile, you can examine for yourself the four cybercrime bills filed by Senators Enrile, Marcos, Angara and Revilla by clicking on the link below: