“True development in the digital age can only happen if it’s truly inclusive.”
So said Michael David C. Tan, executive director of Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. and concurrent editor in chief of Outrage Magazine, during a conference on human rights and the Internet organized by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA).
“While the United Nations (UN) now considers Internet access as a human right, it doesn’t automatically mean it is already accessible to all,” Tan said. “The goal, therefore, particularly of service providers, is to ensure that access to Internet becomes widespread and even becomes normal. Only then will it be truly become inclusive.”
Themed “Between the Web We Have and the We We Want: Recollection, Renewal, Reboot”, the conference was in line with this year’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Philippine Internet. The conference gathered more than 75 participants from the CHR and civil society organizations representing different sectors and advocacies, media organizations and the academe.
According to Commissioner Karen S. Gomez-Dumpit of CHR, “We are faced with a population that is totally dependent on the internet already. (But) although the Internet has been seen as an effective platform to promote human rights, violations against the rights and freedoms of users have grown exponentially. The Internet as a fast evolving platform demands some regulations to ensure that rights to expression and privacy of individuals are protected.”
Gomez-Dumpit added: “Personally, I believe that we cannot have an untrampled access to all these technologies without any form of regulation… We need to have safeguards in order to address several issues concerning human rights like gender-based violence, child pornography, and proliferation of fake news, among others. Thus, we need to revisit how we better protect our rights online.”
The Philippines had 69.6 million internet users in 2017; with the figure expected to grow to 93.7 million by 2023 (Statista).
This is obviously “good and bad,” said Tan.
In the case of the LGBTQIA community for example (and in particular), “we now know of Pride events, even if many of them are really just big commercial, for-profit parties/gatherings. We also know of LGBTQIA couples, such as Ice Seguerra and Liza Dino.”
But Tan said that “there is a catch. For example, we may have heard that Ricky Reyes was sued by a former employee for HIV-related discrimination. But not many know that Renato Nocos, the PLHIV involved, was kicked out of his house, disowned by family members before finding his footing again.” Similarly, “we may know of Jennifer Laude; but not of the other hate crimes committed against LGBTQIA Filipinos. Many of these were gruesome murders.”
Tan said that “there is a disconnect between what’s online and what’s happening on the ground. And this stresses one thing: The need to not solely rely on making it big digitally, but also go beyond the so-called ‘keyboard activism’.”
There is also a need to “go back to basics,” Tan said. In Outrage Magazine’s dealings with members of the GBTQIA community in non-metropolitan areas, for instance, “we’ve been repeatedly told ‘We don’t even have electricity yet, and you expect us to have Internet connection?’”
For Tan, this means that “technology just isn’t available for everyone… yet.”
For Lisa Garcia, FMA executive director: “We (also) need to put human rights at the core of technology. It’s what we call human rights by design. Technology is there to make things better for us. It should not be used to work against us, or to harass us. Human beings designed technology, and as such, it is possible to design the kind of technology that is responsible to our needs. And it is possible for us to shape the kind of Internet that we want.”
Garcia also emphasized that there is a need for “all of us to be involved, so that all our voices can be heard. As more and more Filipinos go online, we have to make people aware that our rights remain the same. The Internet is just a medium, it is just a space. But that is the only thing that has changed, and our rights remain.”
The CHR and FMA event was supported by the Governance in Justice for Human Rights or GOJUST Human Rights Project of the European Union (EU) and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation’s (AECID).
In the end, Tan stressed, “always think of inclusivity when looking at the digital world. Otherwise, we end up mimicking online the flaws of everything offline.”