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MANILA, Philippines – The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is discouraging its employees, including contractuals, from posting on social media about their opposition to the anti-terrorism bill, already up for signature by President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a message to regional offices on Wednesday, June 3, the agency’s human resources development office sought “assistance in encouraging our personnel,” especially those in the field, to instead support Secretary Eduardo Año and the DILG’s “advocacy to stop terrorism in the country and achieve lasting peace for the Filipinos.”
Rappler got information from DILG personnel from at least 6 regions about this message, which was reportedly sent by an assistant secretary.
On Thursday, June 4, the DILG director in Central Luzon issued a written advisory to the region’s officers and personnel, adopting practically in toto the text message received from the central office.
“We are encouraging everyone in the DILG to be responsible in posting their views and comments against the Bill in their social media accounts,” the DILG Region III advisory said.
What does the DILG suggest the employees do? The alternative way, the advisories said, would be to course the employees’ opinions and inputs “through the Office of the Undersecretary for Legislative Affairs or directly to the Office of the Secretary.”
Both advisories cited Año’s position that the bill “is not anti-human rights” and that “only terrorists should be afraid of it.” This measure, they said, “seeks to finally stamp out terrorism in the country.”
Año, a former military chief, had been pushing for a tougher anti-terrorism law for years. He said the Human Security Act that took effect in 2007 had “favored” suspected terrorists with all its safeguards, making it difficult for authorities to build and file cases against suspects while keeping them in custody. (READ: EXPLAINER: Comparing dangers in old law and anti-terror bill)
How does DILG justify the ‘reminder’? On the eve of Independence Day, when various groups were to stage protests against the government’s proposed anti-terror law and pandemic response, the DILG central office issued a memorandum reminding agency personnel to watch their behavior on social media.
In a memorandum dated June 11, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources Development Florida Dijan gave “all concerned DILG central and regional offices” a reminder on the “observance of proper behavior in the use of social media platforms.”
While recognizing that social media helps the department create public awareness of its projects and services, Dijan said it is also “a communication tool where one could express his/her views on relevant issues.”
She cited a 2017 circular containing the DILG’s policy and protocols on social media accounts, as well as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees,” to drive home the point that employees, as the department’s representatives, “must conduct ourselves in accordance with the Department’s personality brand.”
Set in boldface, a paragraph in the memo said:
In line with this, all concerned personnel are reminded to observe proper behavior and to be responsible in the use of (e.g., sharing of information, rendering of opinions/sentiments) of social media platforms.
Can DILG punish its employees? Lawyer and Rappler columnist Emil Marañon III, who studied human rights, conflict, and justice, said “government employees, upon entering public service, do not leave their constitutional or basic human rights by the doorway.”
He cited the 2015 case of Davao Water District vs. Aranjuez et al., where the Supreme Court ruled: “Unarguably, a citizen who accepts public employment must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom. But there are some rights and freedoms so fundamental to liberty that they cannot be bargained away in a contract for public employment.”
Marañon added: “They should be free to speak their mind in the manner and in the platform of their choice, their social media pages included…. Fair and factual criticism (or endorsement) of the anti-terror bill is protected speech and thus cannot be restrained or be a ground for disciplinary action.”
Read Marañon’s two-part explainer:
Proposed Anti-Terror Act of 2020 a devil’s playground in the hands of a despot
Can government employees post criticism of the anti-terror bill?
Why are people protesting the proposed law? The Senate passed its new anti-terrorism bill in February, while the House of Representatives acted on this bill only this week, after President Duterte certified it as urgent.
With the certification, the lower chamber didn’t need to wait for an interval of days to approve the bill on each reading, and passed it on June 3 – the same day the DILG central office sent the message to regional offices to advise their employees to support it.
The bill also skipped the bicameral deliberations because the House adopted the version approved by the Senate. The bill was then set to be enrolled for Duterte’s signature before Congress went on recess. (READ: ‘Terror law’: The pet bill of the generals)
More than the railroading of the bill – amid a pandemic at that – various sectors are protesting both online and in the streets the warrantless arrests and surveillance, prolonged detention without charges, on top of the loose definition of what are considered terrorist activities and who are considered terrorists and those aiding them.
Lawyers’ groups and human rights advocates have expressed their intention to question the measure’s constitutionality before the Supreme Court. – Rappler.com