Journalists, rights center file opposition to cybercrime law

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012


MANILA (2nd Update, 4:06 p.m.) -- The first day of implementation of the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was met with two petitions questioning its constitutionality before the Supreme Court.

The petitions were separately filed by the Ateneo Human Rights Center and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), whose request for temporary restraining order was signed online by at least 211 individuals and 12 different media outfits and watchdogs.

These are 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, among others.

Listed respondents in the petition are Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police and the Cybercrime Investigation and the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center, among others.

NUJP Et Al v ES petition vs cybercrime law

The Department of Justice and the Department of Interior and Local Government are among the agencies tasked to craft the implementing rules and regulations within 90 days from the approval of the law on September 12.

"Petitioners ask this Court to rule on Republic Act no. 10175, a law that establishes a regime of 'cyber authoritarianism' and undermines all the fundamental guarantees of freedoms and liberties that many have given their lives and many still give their lives work to vindicate, restore and defend. It is a law that unduly restricts the rights and freedoms of netizens and impacts adversely on an entire generation’s way of living, studying, understanding and relating," the petition read.

On Tuesday, the SC said it has deferred the deliberation of the petitions to next week, sparking disappointment among those who are pushing for a restraining order prior to the law's implementation.

Like the other eight petitioners, the journalists challenged the constitutionality of Sections 4, 5, 6, 7, 12, 14, 15, 19, 21, 24, and 26 of the law, which were seen as violations to freedom of speech, right to privacy, illegal searches and seizures and double jeopardy.

The insertion of provisions regarding online libel and vague sections on data collection and sanctions were also slammed by media groups for leaning towards censorship.

"Far from complying with the State policy in Article II, section 24 of the 1987 Constitution that 'recognizes the vital role of communication and information' and advancing the use of technology to expand the space for creative, imaginative, and progressive use of information and communications technology (ICT)...the law, if allowed to stand, will usher in yet another darkness," the petition stated.

In response, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima refused to buy the arguments of the petitioners assailing the constitutionality of the law.

"Based on my reading of the law, I haven't seen yet any unconstitutional provision," she told reporters, adding they will carefully craft the law's IRR.

"We will determine how the IRR can be used in terms of clarifying, harmonizing those objectionable portions," de Lima said.

Malacañang urged Wednesday various stakeholders to engage in wide-ranging dialogue with an inter-agency group tasked to draft the IRR of the highly criticized law.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the Executive department is willing to listen to the concerns of stakeholders even as he urged them to participate in the process of drafting the IRR.

"We believe there is an opportunity for reasonable discourse between concerned stakeholders and the Department of Justice," Lacierda said.

He admitted Wednesday that the highly-contentious clause of online libel was inserted by Senator Vicente Sotto III, who claimed to have been the first cyberbullied senator in the country.

"Online libel was inserted by Senator (Tito) Sotto in the Senate deliberation," he said, adding that the takedown clause was also inserted during the Senate deliberation.

The penalty on the libel provision was inserted at the bicameral level, he said.

Lacierda, meanwhile, said the Palace respects the oppositions to certain provisions of the law urging concerned groups to bring their concerns to court with corresponding amendments to the law in accordance with constitutional processes.

For his part, Vice President Jejomar Binay said the government should make sure that it can respond to the clamor of different groups wanting to repeal the law.

"It's good that lapses have already been acknowledged so the remedies will be forthcoming," he said.

Senator Francis Escudero and Kabataan party-list Representative Raymond Palatino have since filed bills seeking to repeal sections related to online libel.

As this developed, the Malacañang has called on netizens to be vigilant against online vandalism, recently done by hackers protesting the new law.

Lacierda said the hackers are "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," he said. (Virgil Lopez/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)

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