New AFP Chief to propose social media regulation under Anti-Terrorism Act

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 4) — The newly-installed chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines wants to regulate the use of social media under the Anti-Terrorism Act to monitor terrorist activities.

Lt Gen Gilbert Gapay, who formally assumed his post as the 54th AFP chief on Monday, said his office will submit its proposals for the law's implementing rules and regulations (IRR) since his men are in the frontlines in the war against insurgency.

Among his proposals are to add a provision on how to curb radicalism among the youth by monitoring and regulating the use of social media.

"Because this is the platform now being used by the terrorists to radicalize, to recruit, and even plan terrorist acts. That's why we need to have to specific provisions of this in the IRR pertaining to regulating the use of social media," he said in a media briefing.

The close supervision of the online activities of suspected terrorists will help state forces stop their acts while they are still at the planning stage, Gapay said.

"(The Anti-Terrorism Act) is proactive and it is geared to prevent the occurrence of terroristic acts. So pinaplano pa lang nila, dapat masa-stop na natin. We will capitize on that very good aspect of this anti-terror law," he said.

His other suggestions are to enhance intelligence sharing among local and foreign state security forces, closely monitor maritime security to address foreign terrorists slipping into the country's porous borders, and manage the public's access to information on making improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Gapay's suggestion will be collated by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is part of the nine-member Anti-Terrorism Council.

Lorenzana said the ATC held its first meeting last week. He said the Department of Justice will forward the draft of the proposed IRR. The AFP Chief will then be given a chance to add his input.

Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, signed into law on July 3, has yet to be fully carried out as law enforcers agreed to wait for the IRR for as long as there’s no imminent threat.

Critics said the new measure relaxes safeguards on human rights and is open to abuse.

Petitions to strike down the controversial law due to its unconstitutionality continues to mount at the Supreme Court. The 21st petition was filed by social media personalities who sought to protect the rights of Filipinos to express themselves online without the fear of being tagged a terrorist for a social media post critical of the administration.

"If we do not fight and if the court won’t take action, the terror law could easily be used to stifle Internet freedom in the guise of fighting terror," petitioner Tonyo Cruz said on July 29.

Lawmakers who authored and sponsored the measure maintained it contains enough safeguards against abuse. President Rodrigo Duterte said “law-abiding citizens” should not fear the law.

CNN Philippines senior correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.