Supreme Court issues TRO vs cybercrime law-A A +A
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
MANILA (4th Update, 6:05 p.m.) -- Fourteen justices of the Supreme Court (SC) voted to temporarily stop the implementation of the much-criticized Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
"Now therefore, effective immediately, and for a period of 120 days, you, respondents, your agents, representatives, or persons acting in your place or stead, are hereby enjoined from implementing and/or enforcing RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012," the Court ruled in a five-page order signed by SC clerk of court Enriqueta Vidal and released to the press late Tuesday.
The ruling, reached following its regular en banc session, is supposed to be the major order of the Court following the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, an appointee of President Benigno Aquino III, who has made known his position in support of the law in its entirety, including the controversial online libel provisions.
The stay order would afford Congress ample time to amend the law before the oral arguments scheduled by the SC on January 15, 2013 at 2 p.m.
At the same time, the Court directed the respondents to file within 10 days their comment on the issues brought to light by 15 groups of petitioners, among which are journalists, bloggers and social media network users, militant groups, a senator, lawyers and youth sector representatives.
They saw it as unconstitutional because provisions like online libel allegedly violate the freedom of expression, due process, equal protection, the right to privacy and correspondence, and the right against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The 15 petitions were raffled to Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., who also wrote the majority ruling on the Hacienda Luisita case.
Aquino, who signed the law on September 12, was among the respondents in several of the petitions filed, along with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, the Information and Communications Technology office of Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center, the Senate and House of Representatives.
Outside the SC, protesters welcomed the decision of the justices. Groups belonging to Bayan Muna and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) blocked Padre Faura Street where the SC building is located.
For a court to issue a TRO unanimously is a strong message of its belief that the dangers and fears of the people are real and must be addressed, said Senator Teofisto Guingona III, the lone opposition to the bill when it was passed in the Senate.
"Now, we must escalate our vigilance, keep the fire burning, and continue the fight for our fundamental rights. The fight of the people, on the streets and online, must continue," he said.
For its part, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) congratulated the members of media, bloggers, netizens, human rights groups, people’s organizations and progressive legislators for standing up against the law.
"The unanimous vote is a bad omen for President Aquino who is remorseless, arrogant and unrepentant about the law he signed," said Tonyo Cruz of the newly formed group Bloggers and Netizens for Democracy (Band).
Lawmakers who filed separate petitions questioning RA 10175 lauded the Supreme Court's decision to issue a TRO.
Party-list representatives Raymond Palatino (Kabataan) and Neri Colmenares (Bayan Muna) said netizens should remain vigilant until the contentious provisions of the law are deleted.
"The credit must go to both the online and offline protesters who lambasted onion-skinned politicians and courted being charged with libel," Colmenares said.
"This is an opportunity for the Palace to retract its hard-line position on the issue, as we now have tangible proof that several of the law’s provisions are unconstitutional and post threats to our countrymen’s civil liberties," said Palatino, who, along with Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño, filed House Bill 6613 to repeal certain provisions of RA 10175, including online libel.
De Lima, meanwhile, said they will abide by the High Court ruling.
The decision came out as the Department of Justice was wrapping up a forum with online users and information technology representatives regarding the details of the law.
"We respect and we'll abide by it. We will present the arguments outlined in the historic forum on cybercrime earlier formally before the High Court in due time. Our advocacy for a safe cyberspace and interdiction of organized crime will continue," she said.
In Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Palace respects the SC's injunction on the new law.
"The administration will always respect the legal processes that are issued by the court," Valte said.
She added that Malacañang will issue further comment after it receives a copy of the TRO.
"We would like to take a look at the specifics of the TRO. I have received information also, initial information that the TRO is directed to some particular provisions. We’d also like to take a look at that first," she said.
Valte said the TRO is only a provisional remedy and should not in any way be construed as a judgment on the merits of the law.
Meantime, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano will likely file a bill that will decriminalize libel, joining Senators Loren Legarda and Francis Escudero in the process.
"First, we will be taking out the defining of libel as criminal in nature and put civil liability instead. Second, we will repeal the cyber-libel provisions in the cybercrime Law. Third is to amend the 'takedown clause' (on access to websites) also in the cybercrime law. Meaning we still have to uphold the law on prior restraint," he said. (Virgil Lopez/JCV/Jill Beltran/Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)