Notes & Essays

What Can Be Done Against Pastor Hokage? Not Much, Says PNP

But a bill filed by Sen. Risa Hontiveros seeks to change that.
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In the past two weeks, the Internet was up in arms over the proliferation of “Pastor Hokage” groups on Facebook. After reporting page after page, netizens began to ask: Isn't there something more we can do about this? Can we report this to the NBI or PNP?

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The answer, as it turns out, is more complicated than it seems. Yes, the activities of these Hokage groups are clearly illegal. But not just anyone can file a complaint before the authorities.

The Need for a Face

It’s not enough to acknowledge that groups like the Pastor Hokage exist and are bad.

According to Senior Superintendent Bernard Tambaoan, Chief of Staff of the PNP Anti-Cybercrime group, a person cannot lodge a formal complaint against a hokage group member unless that person is an actual victim.

"Kasi sino ‘yong ififile namin ng kaso? Paano magstand yung kaso kung kulang yung ebidensya natin? Walang identity ng victim, picture lang. Tatawanan tayo ng korte niyan. [Who would we file the case against? How will the case stand if we don't have enough evidence? You don't have the victim's identity, just a picture. We'll be laughed out of the court.]"

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"It should be the victim, because you need to have legal standing. You're offended, your reputation was damaged," confirms BJ delos Santos, criminal lawyer and partner at the A.B. S. Law Firm. Whether it's a civil or a criminal law suit, the person filing the case needs to establish their involvement in the matter, because they're suing for damages.

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According to the current law, the burden of proof is on the victims. This means that it's their responsibility to provide the police with a suspect.

Even in the case of child pornography—which is forbidden by the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009 and the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act—the complaint needs to come from the child's parents. Screenshots of pedophiles requesting or posting videos won't suffice. "The screenshots need to be supported by testimonial evidence," delos Santos explains. "Where was the video taken, and who took it?"

On top of that, the burden of proof is on the victims. This means that it's their responsibility to provide the police with a suspect. If the perpetrator used a fake account, it's up to the complainant to establish his identity. Until she can do so, the police's hands are tied because of the Data Privacy Act of 2012, which prevents them from tracing a suspect's IP address without a court order.

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"Iyon yung hindi naiintindihan ng public, pati media," Tambaoan asserts. " Sige magcomplain ka, ieentertain ka namin pero paano natin mapakulong? Paano natin mapalabas yung warrant of arrest? Iyon yung big question. [That's what the public doesn't understand, even the media. Okay, go ahead and complain, we'll entertain you but how can we put the man in jail? How do we get a warrant of arrest? That's the big question."

That said, while it's on the victim to provide a suspect, they can ask the PNP or the NBI for advice on what evidence is needed to file a case, and how to lawfully obtain that evidence.

The Law Is Not Violated

Another caveat is that not all of the Hokage groups' posts, while clearly offensive, could be considered as violating the law. Sharing women's nude photos or sex videos is illegal under R.A. 9995 or The Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009. But what happens when Hokages steal photos of a woman in a bikini, or a woman having coffee in what happens to be a slightly revealing top?

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"What the law punishes is stealing and posting a photo of the 'private area of a person under circumstances in which the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy,'" delos Santos says.  

He explains that Section 3(e) of the law defines the “private area of a person” as the “naked or undergarment-clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks or female breast of an individual." Situations where the person can expect their intimate areas to stay intimate include those "in which a reasonable person would believe that a private area of the person would not be visible to the public, regardless of whether that person is in a public or private place” under Section 3(f).

What the law punishes is stealing and posting a photo of the 'private area of a person under circumstances in which the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy

In his opinion, an innocent photo of a fully clothed woman whose cleavage is slightly visible would fall under the law, since it defines the "female breast" as "any portion" under Section 3(c).

On the other hand, the case of a bikini-clad woman posing provocatively at the beach is tricky. Is it reasonable to claim she didn't think her private areas would be visible, given that she was at the beach? Does her bikini count as undergarments?

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Because the law focuses on voyeurism, it falls short when it comes to protecting women who simply wanted to post their bikini photos online. "It protects women who post pictures of themselves without any clear intention of making their photos 'revealing' so to speak, but apparently not those whose intention appears otherwise. The term “voyeurism” covers the first example, but not the second," delos Santos says.  

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Revenge Porn?         

Men who contribute revenge porn, however, are clearly in trouble. R.A. No. 9262 (“The Anti-Violence against Women and their Children Act of 2004”) defines acts of “violence against women and their children” as “any act or a series of acts committed by any person against a woman who is his wife, former wife, or against a woman with whom the person has or had a sexual or dating relationship, or with whom he has a common child, or against her child whether legitimate or illegitimate, within or without the family abode, which result in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological harm or suffering, or economic abuse including threats of such acts, battery, assault, coercion, harassment or arbitrary deprivation of liberty.”

"Included in this definition is 'psychological violence' which refers to 'acts or omissions causing or likely to cause mental or emotional suffering of the victim such as but not limited to intimidation, harassment, stalking, damage to property, public ridicule or humiliation, repeated verbal abuse and marital infidelity,'" says delos Santos.

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Because the law focuses on voyeurism, it falls short when it comes to protecting women who simply wanted to post their bikini photos online.

He adds: "Indeed, Section 5 of the law punishes 'engaging in purposeful, knowing, or reckless conduct, personally or through another, that alarms or causes substantial emotional or psychological distress to the woman or her child' and 'causing mental or emotional anguish, public ridicule or humiliation to the woman or her child.'  These are phrases that can be interpreted broadly to include activities of so-called Pastor groups as long as the requisite relationship with the victimized woman is present."

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The administrators of pastor groups can be prosecuted under the Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 as well. Even if they don't engage in posting lewd photos and videos, the aforementioned laws punish those who aid and abet voyeurism and cybersex.

Cyber sex, according to Section 4 (c)(1) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, is the “willful engagement, maintenance, control, or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favor or consideration."

Delos Santos believes they can even be held liable for cyber-libel, which is “public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person” that is committed by “writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means."

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Existing Bills

On top of these existing laws, Senator Risa Hontiveros has filed Senate Bill 1251 or the Gender-Based Electronic Violence Bill. "It criminalizes precisely this kind of behavior—misogynistic language, homophobic discourse online, and the outright harassment that characterizes these Facebook groups," she says.

"What is disturbing to me is there is data that shows 57% of online violence results in physical harm," she adds. "These Pastor groups are a breeding ground for this kind of harassment culture which victimizes and objectifies women. SB 1251 is intended to nip this culture in the bud and further empower our law enforcement to bring these people to justice."

If passed, the Gender-Based Electronic Violence bill will give the law more teeth. Section 3.3 punishes "Harassing or threatening the victim through text messaging, obscene, misogynistic, homophobic or indecent posts in social media sites, or other cyber, electronic or multimedia means;" and Section 3.5 criminalizes "Unauthorized use of the victim’s picture, video, voice, name or any other aspect of the victim’s identity and distributing the same in any video game, phone application, program and the like, which deliberately exposes the victim to harassment and attack and puts or tends to put the victim in a bad light or injure the victim’s reputation."

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These Pastor groups are a breeding ground for this kind of harassment culture which victimizes and objectifies women. —Sen. Risa Hontiveros

In delos Santos' opinion, this means that even stealing women's profile pictures, selfies, and bikini-clad photos and objectifying them could be punishable under the law. The penalties are stiff—up to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to P500,000.

With the current laws only valid with victims stepping forward, Hontiveros adds: "I'd like to stress the importance of public participation in fighting these kinds of groups."

"A formal complaint gives our men and women in law enforcement more mandate to act on these crimes. This is how ordinary citizens can help the PNP and the NBI identify these groups and prosecute them," she says.

What We Can Do Beyond the Web

According to Tambaoan, revenge porn victims are often loathe to admit they've made sex videos with their boyfriends. It's no surprise, when even police officers say that it's "negligence" on their part for trusting their boyfriends or "careless" of them to post photos on social media. When a person's basic human dignity is violated, they have a right to seek assistance without being blamed.

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Hontiveros believes that creating an environment where victims can come forward without shame is vital. Admonishing them for sending their boyfriends nudes or posting selfies on Facebook is counterproductive.

Support for women like Marie, who've mustered the courage to file a case with the NBI, is therefore encouraged. Public outrage can create the pressure needed to change legislation (for example, lobbying for the passage of SB 1251 and SB 13260, and it can create safe spaces for victims to come forward.

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"Schools should teach respect for all genders in the classroom, both in structured environments, and by sharing leadership roles among genders," Hontiveros says. "As for the home, the answer is simple, but not easy: parents truly need to be role models for their children. And this extends to the larger sphere in the country too."

"Remarks such as ‘Uy, sexy, pa kiss naman diyan,’ or ‘Miss, miss, ano number mo?’ diyan nagsisimula yan. We also need to be very self-aware when well meaning people accidentally promote this culture by excusing misogynistic behavior and say that ‘oh, eh lalake yan eh.’ That simply isn’t true," she adds.

But until Hontiveros' Tres Marias Bills are passed, people on the web need to stay vigilant and keep reporting these Pastor Hokage groups, and all their permutations on Facebook. We've proven that we can close these groups down, and we need to keep doing so. The trolls like to say, "We don't die, we multiply. We dwell in the shadowsss." It's up to us to drag them into the light."

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