Philippines’ Duterte Vetoes Bill That Would Criminalize Anonymous Social Media Accounts

Philippines’ Duterte Vetoes Bill That Would Criminalize Anonymous Social Media Accounts
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks at Villamor Air Base in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines, on Feb. 28, 2021. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Aldgra Fredly

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed a proposed law on April 15 that seeks to mandate the registration of SIM cards and social media accounts with the users’ legal identities, citing the need for a “more thorough” review of the measure.

The bill, ratified by the Congress of the Philippines in February, would require anyone creating social media accounts to register with their real names and phone numbers, and anyone failing to do so would face a fine of 200,000 Philippine pesos (about $3,832) or a six-year imprisonment.

The bill also seeks to mandate public telecommunications entities to require mobile phone users to register with their valid identification and a photo before their SIM cards can be activated, the Philippine News Agency reported.

“The president has decided to veto the consolidated Senate Bill No. 2395/House Bill No. 5793, which seeks to mandate the registration of all SIM cards and social media accounts,” acting presidential spokesperson Martin Andanar said.

Andanar said that while Duterte acknowledged the need to deter electronic communication-aided crimes, he was “constrained to disagree with the inclusion of social media in the measure, without providing proper guidelines and definitions.”

“The president similarly found that certain aspects of state intrusion, or the regulation thereof, have not been duly defined, discussed, or threshed out in the enrolled bill, with regard to social media registration,” Andanar said.

“The president noted that the inclusion of social media providers in the registration requirement was not part of the original version of the bill and needs a more thorough study,” Andanar added.

Duterte was concerned that the lack of guidelines “may give rise to a situation of dangerous state intrusion and surveillance threatening many constitutionally protected rights,” according to Andanar.

“It is incumbent upon the Office of the President to ensure that any statute is consistent with the demands of the Constitution, such as those which guarantee individual privacy and free speech,” he said.

“This notwithstanding, we ask Congress not to lose heart in passing effective and strengthened measures that offer our citizens a safe and secure online environment, provided that the same would stand judicial scrutiny,” Andanar added.

Lawmakers had approved the measure earlier in 2022 as they sought to thwart what they described as online abuse and misinformation from anonymous accounts, especially in the run up to the May 9 general election. But with Duterte’s veto, the bill is unlikely to be passed before voters go to the polls.

Duterte’s election victory in 2016 was partly attributed to a well-organized social media campaign, but critics have blamed pro-Duterte “trolls” and influencers for spreading alleged misinformation to discredit and threaten opponents.

Reuters contributed to this report.