Hundreds of Facebook users who reported their accounts cloned on Sunday said they had signed an online petition against the new anti-terrorism bill approved by Congress a few days ago, and a number of them said they received threatening messages from those accounts.
“Facebook and social media account cloning is a form of cyber attack or cyber harassment, said Ariel Casilao, a former lawmaker for the Anakpawis party-list group. “Such duplicate accounts could post under the name of a certain individual like what troll farms
are doing when they are using legitimate or cloned Facebook accounts to post spam messages and comments, mostly hateful and abusive comments.”
On Sunday, students from the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines reported duplicate accounts, like those reported in UP Cebu, where seven protesters were arrested on Friday.
The University of the Philippines (UP) issued a public advisory about the existence of these duplicate accounts and asked members to check their Facebook accounts and if there are accounts made without their consent, they should report to the Data Protection Officer of Facebook.
In a statement issued Sunday afternoon, National Privacy Commissioner Raymund Liboro said the commission was monitoring reports about the proliferation of alleged impostor Facebook accounts and urged users to report suspected clones.
"While the extent of these incidents [is] not yet fully determined at this time, we have been receiving reports from different sectors, mostly coming from academic institutions. We immediately brought this to the attention of Facebook," Liboro said.
"According to Ms. Clare Amador, Facebook Representative in the Philippines, they are already investigating this… matter as well as other information on unauthorized FB accounts,” he added.
Casilao said the cloned accounts could be a bid to silence social media criticism of the government.
"We are aware that there are desperate attempts to take away even these social media platforms and to silence all forms of expression — either online or offline," he said.
He cited recent government actions against social media users whose posts are against the government.
"The cloned accounts could be a result of a glitch, a bug, or social engineering. We urge netizens to practice digital security and precaution online. Any form or harassment will not hinder the people from voicing out their legitimate demands,” Casilao said.
The Department of Justice said it has ordered its Office of the Cybercrime to investigate the proliferation of dummy and fictitious accounts on Facebook.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Office of Cybercrime would coordinate with other law enforcement agencies, such as the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the rapid increase in the number of fake or dubious Facebook accounts.
He expressed concern over the false information that might be posted on these fictitious accounts, particularly now that the country is in public health emergency.
“This gives me cause for worry. We don't need false information at a time when we're dealing with a serious public health crisis,” Guevarra said.
As public criticism of the anti-terrorism bill mounted, Senate President Vicente Sotto III sought to defend it, saying its passage meant there would no longer be a need to declare martial law.
In a radio interview, Sotto described the Human Security Act, which the new bill seeks to replace, as the weakest anti-terrorism policy in the world.
In the House, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and party chairman Neri Colmenares assailed the Senate for introducing travel restrictions in the new anti-terror bill.
“The senators claim they invited genuine oppositors to their Senate hearings on the new terror bill. We would like to know who they invited since we have not heard of any genuine oppositor who claims to have been invited. Many were surprised in fact when the senators approved the new anti-terror bill last February without even getting inputs from those who oppose it," Colmenares said.
"On the other hand, the House of Representatives invited oppositors, who attended all the hearings. In fact, the House committee considered the inputs of the oppositors and deleted the travel restrictions under the new terror bill, which provides for the house arrest of those accused under the terror law, even if they have been granted bail because the evidence of guilt is not strong. The Senate, however, inserted Section 34, which is not only unconstitutional but violative of the basic precepts of fairness and justice. This is condemnable because Sec. 34 tramples on the right to bail, the presumption of innocence, and due process of any Filipino who happens to be charged under the new terror law," he added.
Zarate said that it is "certainly unfair to insist that a judge shall obey President Duterte's prosecutors to restrict the travel of a person on a mere 'motion'. This is a powerful weapon that can be used by an incumbent President anytime, even during elections, against his political opponents."
"This is compounded when the Senate took out the safeguard under the current Human Security Act that suspends the terror law one month before and two months after an election. This safeguard was contained in the already draconian Human Security Act so that it cannot be abused by the incumbent President against his political opponents."
Lawyers and law students worldwide have expressed their opposition to the Philippines’ new anti-terrorism bill, the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) said in a statement.
The signatories to the joint statement of opposition, which was spearheaded by NUPL, include staunch human rights lawyers, legal luminaries, professors of law, and law students.
The unity statement said the bill is an "institutionalization of further brazen threats and attacks on civil liberties despite formal assurances that are proven to be rhetorical than real."
“We did not have a difficult time asking lawyers, both here and abroad, for their support to the unity statement. It only proves that members of the legal profession frown upon these kinds of draconian legislation, with its provisions that discourage, undermine and violate basic human rights and even institutionalize impunity for its violations,” NUPL Secretary General Ephraim Cortez said.
Meanwhile, lawyers and lawyers’ groups like the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, National Lawyers Guild of the US, European Lawyers for World Human Rights and Democracy, American Association of Jurists and the Confederation of Lawyers in Asia and Pacific, have shown their support and solidarity with their Filipino colleagues against the bill.
“Support from the worldwide legal community is also overwhelming. Within three days, we were able to gather the support of eminent law professors and practitioners from the US, UK, Italy, Belgium, Puerto Rico, Turkey, South Africa, Portugal, Switzerland, and Canada,” NUPL spokesperson Josalee Deinla said.
The Philippine National Police on Sunday assured the public that the anti-terror bill would not be abused once it becomes a law.