Various groups of Internet users are planning a new strategy to oppose the imposition of the Cybercrime law after the Supreme Court upheld its constitutional basis.
The Bloggers and Netizens for Democracy (BAND), one of the groups that questioned the legality of Republic Act 10175, said it will file a motion for partial reconsideration and called on the other petitioners to join an assembly on February 22 at the University of the Philippines in Diliman to discuss the issue.
“We are inviting our fellow petitioners against the Cybercrime Law to a #notocybercrimelaw assembly on February 22, 1 p.m. at the UP College of Law so we could map out strategies on how to go forward,” the group said in a statement.
“For while we are happy that the court partially agreed with us by voiding the provisions on warrantless real-time data spying, arbitrary taking-down of websites, and double jeopardy, our view in BAND is that the court has unfinished business to settle in order to protect the citizens’ basic right to free expression, whether offline or online,” it said.
The group lamented that the High Court issued the decision as the Philippines was marking its 20th anniversary of being linked to the Internet and preparing for the Asean integration in 2015.
“On the 20th anniversary of our nation’s first link to the web, the fight for Internet freedom continues,” it said.
“The Court should keep the Philippine portion of the Internet free going to its 20th year and make it a shining example for our neighbors, some of whom don’t enjoy any meaningful measure of freedom,” BAND said. “To underscore this, we will join other petitioners in arguing that the rotten and obsolete Philippine libel law be decriminalized and not be promoted or expanded in any way. We will also explain how the law’s provisions, those left wholly or partially untouched by the court, threaten and endanger the five basic principles of Internet freedom: expression, access, openness, innovation and privacy.”
The group said there are enough laws to stop cybersex and cybertrafficking, among them Republic Act 9995 (Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act), Republic Act 9775 (Anti-Child Pornography Act), Republic Act 9208 (Anti Trafficking in Persons Act), Republic Act 8792 (E-Commerce Act), Republic Act 8484 (Access Devices Regulation Act), and Republic Act 4200 (Anti-Wiretapping Law).
Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said the Supreme Court decision will not stop him from going online to expose irregularities in government.
“To tell you frankly, I will not stop hitting the government. I will make fun of the ‘matuwid na daan’ but it’s not libelous as far as I know,” Cruz said.
He said it will be difficult for government to monitor the Internet because law enforcers have many more important issues to attend to.
Fr. Stephen Cuyos, a blogger-priest from the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, urged the Court to review contentious provisions of the Cybercrime law, including online libel.
Cuyos said expressing negative feedbacks online is the netizens’ freedom of expression.
“Sabi nga ni Pope, ang Internet is a gift of God na bilang gift dapat pahalagahan natin at gamitin natin for the common good,” he noted.
Fr. Conegundo Garganta, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Youth (ECY), said that even without the Cybercrime law, the government can stop unscrupulous activities online.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Wednesday stood by the High Court’s decision, maintaining that the law does not seek to muzzle the freedom of expression.
He said that exempting Internet users from being held liable for libel would violate the equal protection for media platforms and practitioners.
“Kung may mali kapag sinabi sa TV, sinabi sa radio, sinulat sa pahayagan, sa mga magazine, ‘pag lumipat ka ng format dapat exempted? Siguro, kayo, hindi kayo papayag. Bakit? Unequal protection naman, di ba, ang maba-violate nun,” Aquino added.
He reminded reporters of the limits to the rights of citizens, including journalists.
Aquino said citizens should not fear online libel if they have done nothing wrong.
“Kung tama naman ang sinasabi mo, bakit ka kakabahan dun sa libel na isyu?” he said.
Sen. Francis Escudero said lawmakers should pass a bill that will decriminalize libel.
“I am for decriminalizing libel, which means removing criminal liability but retaining its civil liabilities,” Escudero said.
At the House of Representatives, Reps. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna, Emmeline Aglipay of Democratic Independent Workers Association and Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption said the penalty for libel under the Cybercrime law is harsh.
“In other countries, libel is even decriminalized and it only entails civil liability because how can you be a criminal in exercising your right to free expression? The law is so vague. You can commit the crime and go to jail, for 12 years at that, without knowing it. How absurd is that?” Colmenares, one of those who questioned the law at the Supreme Court, said.
The Revised Penal Code defines libel as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice of defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to discredit or cause the dishonor or contempt of a person.
“This law is after government’s critics. The government does not want to be criticized over fund use, slow Yolanda response, and the like. This government is not tolerant of dissent,” Colmenares added.
Aglipay agreed, noting that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has declared that the Revised Penal Code violates free speech.
With Jefferson Antiporda and Llanesca Panti