Editorial: A virtual silence-A A +A
Thursday, September 20, 2012
IN A blog entry yesterday, human rights lawyer Harry Roque Jr. wrote, “There can be nothing sadder than suing the son of icons of democracy for infringement into a cherished right.”
The right that he referred to is freedom of expression. It is Roque’s view that the Aquino administration violated this right by approving the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act 101751).
That law, signed last week by President Benigno Aquino III, imposes penalties for many offenses, including cybersex, child pornography, unsolicited commercial communications, and cyber-squatting.
The proviso that Atty. Roque objects to is online libel. After years of refusing to heed proposals to decriminalize libel, Congress has instead expanded the offense to include expressions “committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.”
Worse, the penalty for online libel will be one degree higher than the existing penalties in the Revised Penal Code. If convicted of libel for something expressed in a newspaper, radio or television broadcast, one faces six months and a day up to six years in jail; or a fine of P200 to P6,000; or both penalties, in addition to civil action.
Commit that libel online, and one faces six to 12 years in jail, in addition to the other penalties. That term, Atty. Roque pointed out, is long enough to remove the possibility of parole; those found guilty of online libel are expected to serve time in jail.
When mainstream media workers get sued for libel, they are able to continue publishing or broadcasting even as the case progresses. The work that triggered the libel case remains open to scrutiny, but not, strictly speaking, open to further comment while the case is pending.
Online libel silences more drastically. Under the law, the Department of Justice may, if it decides that there is sufficient evidence to bring the case to court, “issue an order to restrict or block access to such computer data.”
Yes, the justice department, under RA 101751, can order the removal of material it deems offensive; it can silence anyone without the need for a conviction. Good, if all that the law will silence are cyber-bullies and liars; but it can be used, too, to silence citizens for merely exercising their right to criticize those in power.
Forty years ago, the Marcos regime began a systematic silencing of dissent by shutting down media organizations that would not yield to its “guidance”. Today, the Aquino administration has armed itself with a law to silence any Filipino online, media worker or not.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 21, 2012.