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Possible Legal Implications Of Sam's Morales' Alleged Catfish Issue, According To A Law Professor

Sadly, there's no law against catfishing in the Philippines.
IMAGE pexels.com

The internet scandal du jour is a doozy. If you’ve been spending way too much time on the internet (as many of us are during this lockdown), you’ve probably already heard about how a woman in the local creatives industry supposedly gets her kicks out of tricking trans women into getting into a relationship with a fairly good-looking guy and then ghosting them later on.

You might think that’s pretty harmless (especially if you've been watching reality show The Circle), but not if you’ve read the long, sordid Twitter thread of user @JzanVern, the first complainant to come forward to expose the misdeeds of the alleged perpetrator, whom she identified as Sam Morales.

We say the first because since Monday night, when the Twitter thread raced through the interwebz to compete for attention against other news of the day (like presidential addresses and updates on COVID-19), other individuals have come forward saying that they, too, have been victimized by this Morales’ M.O.

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According to @Jzanvern, Morales accomplishes her dastardly acts by coercing a supposed accomplice, a man later identified as Bilko Argana, into initial contact with the target, often through a dating app like Tinder. Morales could do this because the guy is supposedly a model who would ostensibly lose his job if he didn't do Morales’ bidding.

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But—and we totally get it if you already knew where this was going—Morales had been steering this ship since before it left port. Apparently, she was the one communicating with the target, essentially assuming the identity of the guy. And it wasn’t just her. According to @Jzanmern, it was “Morales, another girl, and one of her guy friends.”

In the case of @Jzanvern, that communication was near-constant (we’re talking daily) and allegedly even extended to helping the victim out with her work as a graphic designer as well as promises to meet in person that would eventually fizzle out and not happen at the last minute. @Jzanvern said the charade went on for about eight months.

One case is tragic but, as of Tuesday afternoon, at least six other people have confirmed that Morales had done almost the exact same thing to them, too.

Morales’ alleged actions are disturbing and despicable, sure, but the question is, are they criminal?

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Is Morales criminally liable?

To find out, Esquire Philippines asked Prof. JJ Disini, managing partner of the Disini Law Office. He is an associate professor and head of technology law and public policy at the U.P. College of Law.

“From the standpoint of the model, that can qualify as computer identity theft,” Atty. Disini says. “He can say he was blackmailed (into doing those things).”

As for the alleged victims and chief complainants, Atty. Disini agrees that there is no provision in Republic Act 10175, or the Cyber Crime Preventgion Act of 20120, that covers catfishing, or the act of creating a fake persona on the internet to target someone for abuse, deception, or fraud.

However, Atty. Disini does point to RA 11313 or the so-called Safe Spaces Law.

“It’s essentially gender-based sexual harassment likely to cause mental, emotional and psychological distress,” he says.

Article 2, Section 12 of RA 11313 states:

Gender-based online sexual harassment includes acts that use information and communications technology in terrorizing and intimidating victims through physical, psychological, and emotional threats, unwanted misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist remarks and comments online whether publicly or through direct or private messages, invasion of victim’s privacy through cyberstalking, and incessant messaging, uploading and sharing without the consent of the victim, any form of media that contains photos, voice or video with sexual content, any unauthorized recording and sharing of any of the victim’s photos, videos or any information online, impersonating identities of victims of online or posting lies about victims to harm their reputation or filing false abuse reports to online platforms to silence victims.

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The penalty for offenses under this law is prison correccional (six months to six years) or a fine of not less than P100,000 but not more than 500,000, or both.

In this case, Atty. Disini says all the alleged victims can come forward and file a complaint if they so choose and present evidence to the satisfaction of the prosecutor.

According to @Jzanvern, when she asked Morales why she did it, she said it was because of childhood trauma. “It started when she was young,” Jzanvern said. “She was bullied by gay people all the time. That’s where her hatred towards the gays started.”

Could Morales theoretically use that as an excuse for her allegedly doing what she did?

“The danger of taking that defense is, in effect, she is admitting to everything,” according to Atty. Disini. “The bottom line is, even though she may have been working under this trauma, she would still need to prove that she lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong, and the fact that she can articulate this, that means she knew what she was doing. She needs to prove the extent of the trauma and that would be an uphill battle.

“That, to me sounds like a dangerous defense,” he adds. “Given that at this point, they don’t know all the evidence. Right now, she’s suffering from the social consequences. No, it’s not necessarily the best place to do it, but at this time, it’s all playing out there, on social media.”

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Time will tell how this whole affair will end.

This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph.

* Minor edits have been made by the Candymag.com editors.

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A community page where you can share your feels and show your skills! Learn more here

"Today, I Won"

I always caught feelings for someone, and hoped so much that one day there could a thing between the two of us. I'm usually the one that makes the effort to buy and/or make cute gifts, chats them every other day, and stays up all night with him.

When I was 16, my childhood crush suddenly came back into my life. We'd constantly send updates to each other, recommend favorite songs and talk even the most random things. He'd even text me as early as 6 to just greet me good morning almost everyday. I hoped so much that when I confessed, he suddenly stopped talking to me.

For short, he ghosted me. Those 6 months I spent talking to him, allotting my time for him, and staying up until 3 am for him - all gone in a simple confession. Although I had a few crushes before him, he's the only one that got me in real pain. It was the kind of pain that I never thought I'd experience. It was the kind of pain that I couldn't believe.

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After 7 years (it happened back in 2017), I thought he came back into my life to stay, but I guess he's just one of the guys who distanced. I felt a complete loser that time. But during this quarantine, everything was different. I caught feelings for someone else, but he treated me with the best kindness yet.

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It happened at 2 am, May 30, 2020, when I impulsively confessed my feelings through messaging him. After saying my feelings, he responded with genuine and kind words. We both even complimented each other. Although the feelings didn't reciprocate, I still found a connection that can't be replaced with any guy.

To my 16 year old self, here I am, 18 and happy. You may have felt that time was the biggest regret and loss, but I'm here to tell you, we won. Today, I won.

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Juliana Rebong 3 hours ago

Why our high school barkada is the best?

Remembering our high school years entails quite a lot reminiscing of the things we all been through when we were younger. You’ve experience a lot of new things during those 4 wonderful years and did most of them with the few people you consider your barkada. And through a series of all the lunch breaks you had together, the walks you took on the way home, and taking the same classes, you never thought you’d survive, you have made your life’s greatest friends.

Here are some of the reasons why your high school barkada is the best:

1. You figured out early teenage life together. The transition one have undergone from being a kid to a teenager wasn’t easy. For a moment you are not sure whether you should have played with your friends during recess or you should have just sat down and ate your food because you were too old for games. But whatever it is you chose to do, having friends who were as clueless as you make everything feel easier because you know, deep down, you’d figure things out eventually. You just need good company.

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2. They were with you during your “jeje“ days. I bet you have pictures taken with Camera360 and Retrica. You also have pictures edited using Pizap with embarrassing captions and you somehow kept some of them so you could have something to post online during their birthdays.

3. They know all your exes. They will never EVER forget the name of an ex-boyfriend, an ex-fling, an ex-crush, and an almost you had. They will remind you of your every questionable love decision but you’ll just laugh anyway while saying “Past is past”.

4. They never judge you. They have welcomed you to their lives when you thought jelly shoes and checkered polos were the bomb! They were quick to have told your teachers that you were not feeling well so you could go home when you really just needed to poop. You tell them every embarrassing story you have and were fine with it.

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5. You can always count on them. From the moment you first fell in love and the moment you first had your heart broken, they were with you. They were with you the moment you lost a parent and at moments when you thought you had nothing. Through every break-up and breakthrough, they were there to be your support system.

6. They are your family. Your high school friend’s family is your own family’s extension. Their parents are like your own. Don’t you feel a little kilig whenever your friend’s parents call you “anak”? And then eventually calling them mama and papa became so natural? I felt that, all the time.

7. They will always be your home. They are your place of refuge and security, the place who offers you their hands when you feel lost and the place you run to when you need saving. No matter how much time and distance separate you, they will be the one’s that you always long for and they are the one’s that you will always return to.

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