MANILA, Philippines – Netizens—bloggers, maybe even trolls—stand to play a vital role in the passage of the country’s laws if a proposed Crowdsourcing Act is enacted.
Under Senator Teofisto Guingona III’s Senate Bill No. 33000, the President will have up to five days to receive online comments regarding a bill that has passed Congress and at least three more days to consider the netizens’ views before deciding to sign the measure into law or not.
The bill also seeks to institutionalize online comments as part of the official records of Congress whenever it considers a bill.
Guingona filed the bill weeks after President Benigno Aquino III triggered widespread protest from users of social media by signing into law the Cybercrime Prevention Act that prescribed a harsher penalty for online libel and allowed the Department of Justice take down websites deemed offensive.
“The bill seeks to expand the avenues of participation to the online community. It seeks to harness the productive and effective power of social media. It seeks to give a voice to netizens. People participation must go beyond physical borders,” Guingona said in the bill’s explanatory note.
“From Batanes to Sulu, people must be allowed to participate in the process of law-making. When people are allowed to participate, we have better laws,” he added.
The bill also mandates that pending bills approved on second reading, third reading and in the bicameral conference committee be made readily accessible online.
The recent enactment of the cyberlaw sent netizens poring over Senate journals posted online to establish who proposed the online libel provision, who were responsible for the punishments that are a degree harsher, who voted for the measure on third reading, among others.
One of those who voted for the bill, Senator Francis Escudero, admitted that the criminal provision on online libel slipped his attention. He has since filed a bill amending the measure to remove the provision.
A few other senators have filed amendatory provisions to the cyber law.
Even the law’s sponsor and one of the authors in the Senate, Sen. Edgardo Angara, has expressed reservation over its take down provision which allows the secretary of justice to deny access to websites found to be in violation of the cyber law.
Angara said such actions should be covered by a court order.
“While committee hearings are done offline and in the physical offices of the House of Representatives or the Senate, the public shall likewise be allowed to participate online and give comments on pending bills, at any time between the filing of the bill and the filing of the committee report,” reads Section 6 of Guingona’s bill.
Section 6 further says: “All comments sent through email and similar means using information and communications technology shall form part of the official and public records of Congress and must be considered in the drafting of the committee reports for pending bills.”
“This includes all comments sent as soon as the bill is filed, those sent prior to the first committee hearing on a bill, and those sent prior to the filing of the committee report,” it adds.
Section 7 provides for the continuing online public participation during the period of debates.
“The public must be allowed to continuously express their views on pending bills from the time the sponsorship speech is delivered until the time that the bill is approved and voted on Third Reading and until the report of the bicameral committee is approved by the House of Representatives or the Senate,” Section Seven says.
Section 8 provides for the pre-approval consultation at the level of the President.
“Before signing the bill into law, the President must allow the people to submit their comments online for at least five days. After the five-day period, the President must observe a three-day period or longer within which he can consider the views presented to him by the people,” Section Eight says.
“The periods in this provision can only be shortened for measures that have been certified as urgent by the President,” it says.