The Philippine government approved the Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act on 12 September 2012. Today, October 3, 2012, the implementation of the Cybercrime law begins and many Filipinos are outraged of the passing of the law, citing that some of its provisions curtail the freedom of expression and the freedom of speech.

The most controversial provision is the online criminal libel, which includes acts “committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future” (Section 4, subsection C, paragraph 4). The provision is vague and does not make any distinctions at all. An editorial from the Philippine Daily Inquirer listed few questions (and answers) regarding the provision:

When a newspaper reader e-mails a possibly libelous article to a friend, is that reader now liable for libel, too? The unthinking extension suggests that the answer is yes.

When an online viewer tweets a link of a possibly libelous video to a friend, is that first viewer now liable for libel, too? The unthinking extension suggests that the answer is yes.

When a friend “likes” or shares or comments on a possibly libelous post on Facebook, is that friend now liable for libel, too? The unthinking extension suggests that the answer is yes.

When the subject of a possibly libelous article written by a city-based reporter reads it in online form in a remote area, can the subject file a case against the reporter in that place? The unthinking extension suggests that the answer, again, is yes.

Filipinos bombarded the social media with their protest. A day before the implementation of the controversial law, Filipino Facebook users had a profile-photo blackout. Many were posting statuses describing their disgust on the law and the possible effects when it is implemented. Others did some gimmicks. Here are some of them:

Sen Teofisto Guingona III, the only senator who voted against the passage of the bill into law, said this to Rappler:

“Transplanting the Revised Penal Code definition of libel without specifying who is liable exposes the owner of online newspapers, blogs, sites to liability. ”

He added: “This is problematic because in the case of online communities, people are encouraged to actually participate (make comments, re-tweet, repost on facebook). With this law, editors and owners of these sites will be forced to lock down their websites and prevent people from commenting. I believe that editors can regulate the works of their writers but if you gag the general public, surely the Constitutional right to freedom of expression is threatened.”

In a statement with The Inquirer, Sen Guingona said:

“Let me say this once again, the state has no right to gag its citizens and convict them for expressing their thoughts. The Philippines is a democratic country…”

“The Filipinos should never be left to cower on the sidelines—their thoughts and voices should not be shackled by fear and intimidation. The people should not be afraid of its own government.”

As of Wednesday, at least 211 individuals and 12 different media outfits and watchdogs filed a petition before the Supreme Court, questioning the law’s constitutionality. Those who signed the petition include the “Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Center for Community Journalism and Development, Peace and Conflict Journalism Network Philippines, Philippine Center for Photojournalism; ABS-CBN/ABS-CBNNews.com, GMA-7/GMA News Online, Rappler.com, Mindanews, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Interaksyon.com, Sun.Star, Daily Tribune, Malaya/Business Insight, VERA Files, and Far Eastern Broadcasting Corporation.”

Sen Francis Escudero, who was one of the senators who voted in favor of the bill, said that he failed to notice the online libel provision in the Act, and that he will file a bill to amend it and remove the criminal liability.

Video:

Here is a reminder who among the Philippine senators voted for the passing of the bill (source: Facebook):

Here they are:
1. Sen. Tito Sotto
2. Sen. Bong Revilla
3. Sen. Lito Lapid
4. Sen. Koko Pimentel
5. Sen. Jinggoy Estrada
6. Sen. Loren Legarda
7. Sen. Chiz Escudero
8. Sen. Ping Lacson
9. Sen. Gringo Honasan
10. Sen. Pia Cayetano
11. Sen. Bongbong Marcos
12. Sen. Ralph Recto
13. Sen. Manny Villar

The video below from Rappler discussed the issues of the new law, with criminal law professor Atty. Theodore Te.

Read: Republic Act No. 10175 – Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012

Update on October 3, 2012: Statement of the Presidential Spokesperson on the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 [via Office of the Presidential Spokesperson]

The Cybercrime Prevention Act was enacted by Congress to address legitimate concerns about criminal behavior on the Internet and the effects of abusive behavior.

Questions have been raised about the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Act. We recognize and respect efforts not only to raise these issues in court, but to propose amendments to the law in accordance with constitutional processes.

In the meantime we believe there is an opportunity for reasonable discourse between concerned stakeholders and the Department of Justice. This dialogue can address stakeholder concerns as the Implementing Rules and Regulations are drafted. We urge the fullest and widest participation of stakeholders in this process.

Let us bear in mind the law that binds us all: the Constitution. Our Constitution is clear and uncompromising in the civil liberties it guarantees all our people. As the basic law, its guarantees cannot, and will not, be diminished or reduced by any law passed by Congress. The administration is equally adamant in upholding these liberties, which were regained at such high cost by our people. As the President said on September 27, the vigorous exchange of ideas that is the hallmark of a vibrant democracy, requires those who disagree not to oppress others.

We would therefore like to point out that no government entity has moved to deprive anyone of access to the Internet or to suppress civil liberties as exercised online. In fact what has taken place is that hackers who claim to be aligned with critics of the Cybercrime Act are the ones who have engaged in online vandalism, depriving the broader public of access to much needed government information and services online.

We call on critics of the Cybercrime Act to speak out against online vandalism and bullying with as much vigor and passion as they have expressed in their objections to certain provisions of this law. If our freedoms have been hard won, it would do us all well to remember that in the end, vigilantism harms the cause of freedom of expression and civil liberties for all netizens.

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