Senators divided over SC decision on internet libel

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014


SENATOR Vicente Sotto III lauded the Supreme Court for finally declaring constitutional the internet libel, saying that it was a vindication on his part.

In an interview, Sotto said netizens deserve protection from the government and libel is one of them.

"Libel is libel whether in cyberspace or not," said Sotto, who pushed for the inclusion of libel in Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Law.

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Based on the Senate Journal for January 24, 2012, former Senator Edgardo Angara, who sponsored Senate Bill 2796, accepted Sotto's proposal and the Senate approved libel as one of the punishable acts under the cybercrime measure.

Sotto said the decision of the Supreme Court will definitely give a clear message to those people who refuse to acknowledge the rights of other people and who are bent on bullying those who are innocent and helpless.

"The message of the Supreme Court is clear. We should not say bad things about other people. People who don't mind destroying the lives of others will now have to face the full force of the law," he said.

Sotto admitted he is happy that the SC finally made a strong pronouncement on this issue although it took some time before it was finally declared.

Sotto also cited the case of actresses Kathrina Halili and Rhian Ramon who was victimized using this technology.

"It is best that people who are affected online will find redress in the cybercrime law," Sotto said.

Sotto's proposed amendment defined the cybercrime of libel as the "unlawful or prohibited acts of libel" as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code.

When it becomes malicious, then it becomes libelous and those people who find happiness in ruining the lives of others will have second thoughts now, Sotto said.

Former senator Angara earlier described "cyberspace" as a new avenue for publicizing or communicating a libelous statement, which is now subject for prosecution and punishment as defined by the Revised Penal Code.

But his son, Senator Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara said although it is right to run after those who commit blatant violations using this technology, he still maintains his appeal to decriminalize libel.

"I have an appeal to decriminalize libel. It is something that Congress should consider. Because in the international community, libel is not a criminal offense anymore. The trend worldwide is to file a civil case against those who are guilty. It's something to be reviewed," the young Angara said.

Senator Francis Escudero supports the view of Senator Angara as he expressed a hope it would replace criminal with civil liability on those who will commit libel under the anti-cybercrime law.

"Criminal liability should be deleted but the civil liability should be maintained. Meaning no jail penalty," Escudero said.

Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, for his part, said there is really a need to penalize online libel, which he said provides redress against destruction of one's reputation.

Enrile said this will promote responsibility among netizens, to make them think twice before disseminating baseless information that can hurt other people's good names.

He stressed a reputation is a right of the people as guaranteed in the 1987 Constitution, which says that no person can be deprived of life , liberty and property without due process."

The Senate Minority Leader also said that while other forms of media are relatively limited, the internet has a worldwide reach and is potentially much more destructive than traditional media like the newspaper or radio broadcast.

In their decision, the Supreme Court has declared constitutional Internet libel, but made unconstitutional the all-encompassing power of the Department of Justice to just take down computer data.

It was clearly stated in the SC decision that the law will not allow a penalty for those "who simply receive, post, react to the message."

The same decision, penned by Associate Justice Roberto Abad, also declares constitutional section 5, or the aiding and abetting of the commission of cybercrime, in relation to the commission of: illegal Access, illegal Interception, data interference; system Interference; misuse of devices; cyber-squatting; computer-related offenses such as computer-related forgery and computer-related identity theft; and cybersex. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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