Is Loren Legarda acting as the new Philipine Internet policeman?

The action of the National Bureau of Investigation to arrest independent Filipino web developer Mark Verzo on the basis of a press release by Loren Legarda points sets a precedent which shall have an impact on the freedom of expression and speech on Philippine cyberspace.

The issue is whether BoyBastos.com is a pornsite or not. It is a pornsite loud and clear. The issue that has emerged but nobody has dared to raise is whether a member of the Legislature can act as a defacto Internet enforcer, deciding which and which should not be published on Filipino websites.

With the simple stroke of a press release, the Senator and former mediawoman, can close any website she wishes to pick on. And nobody will raise a howl.

Although the case of Mark Verzo can be dismissed as a simple police matter, the NBI itself admitted it didn’t know what charges to file against Verzo, but they claimed to have a search warrant issued by a judge. What kind of judge would issue a warrant without charges being filed first?

We feel sorry that our Pinoy spy brothers in the NBI were used in a political publicity stunt and ended up in an embarassing situation of having to let Verzo walk home after his questioning because they don’t have any charges against him.

Somebody is not telling the truth in this case. Or the media, especially GMA-7 which has been following the case but failed to dig deeper on things such as Internet laws, is just lazy to go beyond the press releases.

What would prevent another Senator from issuing a press release making sweeping accusations against a critical website, let’s say a website that’s anti-government, then ask the NBI to arrest the website operator on charges of “sedition” or any just about any crime?

The silence of the webmaster community on the Mark Verzo case has validated Loren Legarda’s new-found power as gatekeeper of the Philippine Internet, or maybe the new Online Morality Enforcer. Nobody complains, so let’s just close all those websites that make fun of Loren Legarda, or maybe those blogs that criticize her.

While Legarda can be commended on putting a stop to unrestricted access to adult material, the way Verzo was persecuted by Trial By Press Release coupled by Lazy Journalism is disturbing.

Her publicity stunt has also backfired. BoyBastos.com has not been completely shut down but has even increased in value in terns of monetary worth. While BoyBastos the pornsite may be closed, the domain name shall remain alive forever — if law enforcers know their Internet, they should know what you cannot shut down a domain name.

The website has become more popular and now a household name thanks to TV, radio and newspaper coverage, whereas before only a particular segment of Internet users know about the site.

And Mark Verzo? He has become a new Robinhood, and a sort of a class hero.

And other webmasters and bloggers who remained silent all this time? They have failed to seize the moment to defend cyberspace from political meanderers. It’s their loss, and Verzo’s gain.