Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Diliman Diary Blog: 02.22.2012 (My Darling Cyberstalker)

I first met her online in a Facebook group dedicated to University of the Philippines at Diliman alumni. I had just emerged from a long hibernation since my last relationship ended more than ten years ago, and I was feeling more sociable last year (2011). Guys (and not just girls) also feel the need to relax, hang loose and simply have the option to post away with merriment online; oftentimes approaching something close to wild abandon. 

Socializing online with my contemporaries - fellow U.P. Diliman graduates - was fun. It was exhilirating. It was also the perfect way for me to overcome a decade's old writer's block which had been hounding me. The more I could write without the pressure to perform, the less performance anxiety I felt, and the more my confidence levels began to go up again.

I also made scores of friends, including her. I posted in very thread I could. My visibility shot up, and I was on the radar screen of hundreds of U.P. Diliman alumni who found my irreverent, humorous posts compelling, fascinating, infuriating and difficult to ignore.

I was writing as I never had before. I felt alive again and years of existence in the realm of the undead - in my mind - populated by those who are loveless - and those who suffered from writer's block. In the latter, I was rediscovering myself and in the former, there was the hint, the allure of infinite possibilities. I was beginning to feel human again. And in began to show in my writing, in my posts, my long-buried humor. Even stray dogs and cats, taking note of my change in demeanor, began to gravitate towards me. I must have had a new aura.  Most of all, I suddenly began to be optimistic about life, and began to be hopeful.

Inevitably, I ended up on her radar screen. She participated in the threads I participated in. She was eight years older than I am (I am 46), and had undergone a difficult separation. She was looking for a mate. I was just looking to rejoin the human race. My new year’s resolution in 2011 was simply just to interact more with people. I attended a few get-togethers of our group. Nothing special. At least I met my targets that year.

We became Facebook friends after I posted the history of my entire love life (the short version) on the Facebook page, so as to quell any unwarranted speculation by others about me (Why is he unmarried? Does he have kids? etcetera). Perhaps I was too trusting. But by nature I am transparent. I felt that if I had nothing to hide, then why not let everybody know about the short details? I felt that that was a good way to nip speculation in the bud.

She sent me private messages asking how I was doing with my attempts to reach out to others of the opposite sex after such a long hiatus. I responded frankly about my fears, anxieties and angst. She gave reasonable advice. She would send me several private messages in a day. I would respond to each one of them. I thought I had a reusted, older confidante. She apparently thought otherwise.

It seems that she had found her mate.

Despite the fact that we had never even met, or even talked on the telephone, I had become designated as her “chosen one”.

The only problem with all of this was one little detail: she had forgotten or neglected to consult me about any of this.

Her messages became more insistent. She broke cover. She began to send me messages openly declaring her love for me. She sent me links to songs from Youtube. Some were sweet. Some were somber, dark, frightening, bordering on the verge of madness. I was concerned. Hell yeah. I was scared

I could not reciprocate this unrequited love. I was simply not interested. But being a diplomat’s son, I am perhaps polite to a fault. I politely declined her requests for coffee. I politely declined her overtures to talk on the telephone. I politely declined to have anything to do with her.

One time somebody pretending to be me on Facebook posted a post that I had never authorized and essentially was a post saying that a third party poster had hacked into my account. Immediately after that, I received a private message from her. And in it, she laughing openly and implying about how she had managed to hack into my account. I suddenly remembered the words of another female friend who knew her; and that friend said that she had access to people with technical capabilities to do such kinds of hacking.

I messaged her and confronted her, asking her if she had hacked into my account. She angrily denied this, and unfriended me.

But later on, she repeatedly asked me to add her back again as a friend.

She began picking fights with another female friend, apparently incensed that I still retained my friendship with the other friend.

She began to follow my every post online, seeking to embarrass me, and leaking details that I had given to her in confidence that tended to put me in a bad light in other forums. She complemented these approaches with more private messages, professing her friendship and her love for me.

I was being stalked online. I was being treated as an object by somebody who I did not want to get close to, but who was insisting on ramming a relationship down my throat. I was being cyberbullied. I was being cyberstalked. 

I communicated with another female friend and asked her to ask my cyberbullying "friend" to please stop hounding me. I received a message from her saying that she agreed to stop it.

The jury still remains out as to whether this has stopped once and for all, or it is merely the lull before another new storm?

Know your rights

Maybe I experienced this for a purpose. As the Co-Editor of the Diliman Diary, I am certainly in a position to  write about my experience and help educate my fellow Filipinos about cyberstalking and cyberbullying - whether they are male or female. Cyberstalking and cyberbullying in the Philippines is nothing new, after all.

Article II Section 5 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that, “the maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty, and property, and the promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all people of the blessings of democracy.” One of the avowed policies of the government is the promotion of the general welfare of the people and in order to enjoy peace and order means curbing untoward behavior which essentially disrupts social harmony. 

Normally, the act of bullying usually transpires among children, it is hard to impose punitive justice against them. As the effect of bullying manifest itself in different forms, the more evident manifestation by which the law may interfere is when physical assault is committed. However, since the perpetrators are mostly children under the age of majority, the restorative form of justice embodied in Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Law is employed wherein child offenders are subjected to intervention programs and are brought to child caring institutions in the hope of reintegrating them in the society.

Stalking on the other hand, due to the circumstances by which it was committed, does not have an exact enabling law by which it is punished. Stalking involves actions wherein the perpetrator or stalker would follow the activities of the victim and is normally tagged as following another person’s movement from one place to another. At most, the victim may avail of the provisions under Article 202 (4) and Article 287 of the Revised Penal Code. Under Article 202 (4) of the Revised Penal Code, any person who, not being included in the provisions of other articles in this Code, shall be found loitering in any inhabited or uninhabited place belonging to another without any lawful or justifiable causes and who shall be found guilty thereof shall be punished by arresto menor or a fine not exceeding 200 pesos, and in case of recidivism, by arresto mayor in its medium period to prision correctional in its medium period or a fine ranging from 200 to 2,000 pesos, or both, in the discretion of the court. Article 287 of the same punishing unjust vexation by arresto menor or a fine ranging from 5 to 200 pesos, or both. 

The duration of such penalties, which ranges from one month and one day to six months in case of arresto mayor and one day to thirty days in case of arresto menor, and the meager fines by which the offenses are punished cannot surpass the psychological trauma and other effects of such negative behaviors.

Cyber stalking and Cyber bullying Legislation

At present, the Philippines has no explicit legilation on cyber stalking or cyber bullying. Nevertheless using the aforementioned definition of cyber staking petaining to the involvement of false accusations, transmission of threats, identity theft, damage to data or equipment, certain acts could be subsued in the acts prohibited under the Republic Act No. 8792, An Act Providing for the Recognition and Use of Electronic Commercial and non-comercial Transactions and Documents,Penalties for Unlawful Use Thereof and for other Purpose or the E-Commerce Act, the following Acts shall be penalized by fine and/or imprisonment, as follows:

1. Hacking or cracking which refers to unauthorized access into or interference in a computer system/server or information and communication system; or any access in order to corrupt, alter, steal, or destroy using a computer or other similar information and communication devices, without the knowledge and consent of the owner of the computer or information and communications system, including theintroduction of computer viruses and the like, resulting in the corruption,destruction, alteration, theft or loss of electronic data messages or electronic document shall be punished by a minimum fine of one hundredthousand pesos (P100,000.00) and a maximum commensurate to thedamage incurred and a mandatory imprisonment of six (6) months tothree (3) years.

It is apparent that the above-mentioned law only provides penalties to specfic acts done to promote cyber stalking. It only covers the tip of the entire gamut of cyber stalking. The danger that is posed by cyber bullying and cyber stalking has more far-fetching residues and ripples upon social peace and order. For someone to haunt another’s peace of mind debases morality and effectively undermine trust and confidence in the social forces that is supposed to safeguard people’s welfare against social harms.

Despite the lack of clear cut legislation designed to curb cyber stalking and cyber bullying, there are current efforts recognizing the dangers that these negative practices bring upon an individual or group of individuals in a society. In April 2009, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile filed Senate Bill No. 3177 entitled An Act Defining Cybercrime, providing for the prevention, supression and imposition of penalties and for other purposes. The Bill recognizes the stark advantage of the internet as it is nowadays a necessity and a tool for development and efficiency.

However it also recognizes the growing criminal perpetrators using the internet in carrying out their illegal activities. The Bill seeks to define what consitutes cybercrime and has mentioned in passing cyber stalking as an emerging trend espousing safer medium to stalk someone as this will not require physical presence when committing the misdeed and would only require an internet capable computer system. In the said proposed law however, cyber stalking and cyber bullying were not extensively mentioned as one of the cybercrimes needed to be addressed. It specifically tackled child pornography using the internet as well as Internet espionage and similar scenarios.

Senator Manny Villar on March of 2009 filed Senate Resolution No. 915 entitled A Resolution Urging the Senate Committees on Science and Technology, Public Information and Mass Media and other Appropriate Committees To Conduct an Inquiry in Aid of Legislation, on the occurrence of Cyber Stalking Cases and the Modus Operandi Adopted to Perpetuate Crimes in the Internet with the end view of formulating a policy that will curb cyber stalking and protect on-line users in the country. The author keenly recognized the danger posed by someone pretending to be another person using the account of that person to solicit money and or perpetuate criminal activities such as extortion, sexual harassment and other forms of crimes. At present, the Resolution has yet to be passed upon by the Senate and is pending hearing before the appropriate committees. Cyber bullying however do not have, as of the moment, similar legislative recognition. As dangerous as cyber stalking, bullying on the Internet may qualify as a cybercrime under the E-commerce law but it may have a semblance in the proposed bill of Senator Enrile.

It is important to understand however, that cyber stalking and cyber bullying are relatively new phenomenon in the country. This is the reason why there are no laws specifically pertaining thereto as of the present time. The E-Commerce law may be used to encompass other related activities but the scope of the said law is not comprehensive enough to include specific crimes of cyber stalking and cyber bullying. Despite several proposed enactments and resolutions by the Legislative arm of the government, there is still a need to concretize specific enabling laws that will establish legal grounds for singling out acts of cyber stalking and cyber bullying and penalizing the same. Without a specific law to criminalize such acts, aggrieved parties may be left with no other recourse but to file for civil damages using the general law on human relations enshrined under Article 19 of the Civil Code of the Philippines which aptly states that:

Article 19. Every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due and observe honesty and good faith.

In the absence of such enabling law to criminalize such acts and provide penalties for the commission of such, the victim may only claim civil damages by way of filing cases on the basis of the above-mentioned provision. The perpetrator may pay the indemnity but may get away scot-free from the acts which he or she committed. The penalty provided by existing law do not commensurate to the damage and injury that such acts produce.

Overall, then much work needs to be done to enact legislation that would make cyberstalking and cyberbullying more costly for its perpetrators to engage in. As citizens, we can certainly do out bit by writing our local legislators to enact more legislation on this matter, and to also beief current and potential victims of their rights that already exist under current laws.

(Chanda Shahani)

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