MANILA, Philippines – As election day nears, various forms of politically-motivated violence hound Filipinos both online and offline, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) observed.
On Monday, April 18, the CHR, through its project "Bantay Karapatan sa Halalan" (BKH), highlighted the need to "govern" online spaces as they are used by some Filipinos to spread election-related violence and threats.
The project is in partnership with poll watchdogs and human rights groups like Lente and Dakila.
"We should protect our digital rights during elections," stressed Mich Rama of Dakila. "While social media is a great tool to exercise our human rights and freedom of speech, it's also used for human rights abuse."
"We should use it instead to promote credible news and platforms," she added.
In April, environmentalist Renee Juliene Karunungan's social media post regarding her experience with online bullies went viral.
Karunungan received hundreds of Facebook messages and thousands of comments right after posting her reasons for not supporting presidential bet Rodrigo Duterte.
Her inbox was flooded with messages from netizens who claimed to be Duterte supporters. Karunungan received insults, curses, and even death and rape threats.
Karunungan's experience, according to the BKH, is a form of human rights violation.
"More than just cyberbullying, there's gender-based violence like rape threats and name-calling," said Rama. "Human rights online is the same as human rights offline. There should be same protection."
The CHR is urging Filipinos to use the Internet to "reclaim our rights."
So what can social media users do if they experience online abuse?
"A good first step is to file a human rights complaint with the BKH," said Gemma Parojinog, the CHR's representative for the project.
To report such cases, one can use the BKH website or proceed to the central and regional CHR offices.
While the CHR admits that it would be hard to catch and prosecute online abusers, especially since it is hard to track "fake accounts," it hopes the Philippine National Police (PNP) Anti-Cybercrime Group can help with the problem.
"This is only being monitored now. Social media users are becoming irresponsible when issuing statements [about elections]," Parojinog noted.
"I hope they [Filipino netizens] are more conscious of what they say, so it won't reach the point where they will violate the rights of other social media users and that crimes are committed."
Dakila also wants cases of election-related cyberbullying to be included in the scope of the Cybercrime Law.
In 2013, Senator Nancy Binay filed the Electronic Violence Against Women bill which seeks to protect women from online harassment and blackmailing, bullying, cyber-stalking, and hacking.
Penalties for "electronic violence" include jail time and a hefty fine. Victims would also receive counseling or psychiatric treatment as needed.
The bill, however, remains pending.
For now, the CHR is advising the public to report and keep screenshots of the abusive online messages they receive.
On the ground
Meanwhile, on the ground, election violations also remain aplenty, poll watchdogs said.
In fact, from June 2015 to March 2016, there have already been 49 incidents of "politically-motivated" killings, assault, and harassment in the country, the CHR reported. (READ: Politically-motivated killings before PH elections)
The CHR received reports that government resources, like vehicles, conference halls, and funds have been used in "electioneering."
In the local races, some incumbent officials use their power to derail other candidates' campaigns. Some spread black propaganda. Others bar their rivals from campaigning in public spaces like barangay basketball courts.
The CHR also reminded Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries not to fall prey to deceitful candidates – something the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) also warned voters about recently.
"4Ps beneficiaries should not be coerced in joining political rallies under threat that these beneficiaries could suffer reduction in their benefits, or just be removed as one," Parojinog said.
Those using 4Ps to buy votes may be reported to the DSWD, Commission on Elections, and the Civil Service Commission.
The CHR observed that many Filipinos hesitate in reporting election violations out of fear.
But the CHR reminded the public that it is ready to support and protect those who want to speak up. The first step is to break the silence. – Rappler.com
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