Sotto organizing campaign to override SIM card bill veto

PHILSTAR

SENATE PRESIDENT Vicente C. Sotto III said on Monday said he hopes to “save” the proposed SIM Card Registration Act by overriding President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s veto before the 18th Congress closes.

“I was going to call Executive Secretary Bingbong (Salvador C.) Medialdea, I will tell him that the way to go around this is that both houses of Congress will overturn the veto of the President, and then the provision that they dislike can be questioned by the Supreme Court, and we can ask the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional,” according to a transcript issued by his office of a briefing he conducted.

“But then again, the prepaid SIM cards must be registered because that is part of the law,” he added. “It will become a law minus the provision that Malacañang does not want.”

Mr. Sotto, who is currently running to become Vice-President, said an override can be done by May 23 if his proposal to seek a constitutional challenge is approved by the President. Congress can override a veto by a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate, effectively barring the President from blocking a law that has significant support from legislators.

The bill was designed to deter terrorism, fraud, and blackmail enabled by the anonymity provided by unregistered phones.

Mr. Sotto said the Philippines is one of the few countries that does require the registration of prepaid Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards, hindering criminal investigations.

“I think the veto of the President (was due to the registration requirement for) social media. I think it’s a matter of how it was explained, why it was included in the period of amendments,” Mr. Sotto said. The original version of the proposed measure did not contain the vetoed provision.

The President’s Spokesman, Jose Martin M. Andanar said Mr. Duterte does not approve of the social media registration provision, which he fears may pave the way for surveillance in violation of Constitutional rights.

According to the consolidated version of Senate Bill 2395 and House Bill 5793, the core provision of the legislation remains a requirement for all telecommunications companies to make the registration of SIM cards a requirement for their sale.

Representative Victor A. Yap, who heads the chamber’s information and communications technology committee, has asked the Palace to provide a clearer description of the provisions in the bill that it finds objectionable.

“Freedom of speech is not an absolute right. The government has the power… even the duty to regulate it for the common good of its citizens,” Mr. Yap, the primary author and sponsor of the bill, said in a statement on Monday.

“There is nothing in the bill that prohibits free speech nor invades the privacy of an individual,” he added, noting that the measure only seeks to establish accountability of individuals in digital and online communities as is done in “real life.”

The passage of the bill addresses continuously evolving security concerns, Mr. Yap said, especially with information and communication technologies becoming increasingly pervasive.

Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, one of the co-authors of the bill, said he will continue to seek the passage of the legislation should he be returned to office in May, citing the need to deter fraud in digital activities.

“This is one of the first things I will present when we return to the Senate,” he said in a Monday statement, “but I will separate the proposal for social media (in) deeper and more comprehensive detail.”

He noted that social media is currently being used to perform several harmful activities, including troll attacks, which he has been a victim of.

“I, on the other hand, am open to fixing the law to be clear. But in theory, only real people should register on social media,” he said.

He said criminals have been taking advantage of anonymity and have reduced consumer confidence in online and digital transactions.

The bill, Mr. Gatchalian said, seeks to promote accountability and provides mechanisms that make it difficult for criminals to commit mobile phone, internet or electronic communication-aided criminal activity.

It will also give law enforcement agencies the tools to establish evidence trails during their investigations, he added. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan