[PHOTO -Sen. Edgardo Angara, principal sponsor of the controversial law in the Senate, said libel in the cybercrime law was not something new. “We are just importing the law of libel for print and broadcast into the Internet. Otherwise there would be a zone of impunity. I can begin attacking maliciously the people I hate,” he added.]

MANILA, OCTOBER 8, 2012 (INQUIRER) By Cathy C. Yamsuan, Leila B. Salaverria, Norman Bordadora - Amid the outrage over the Cybercrime Prevention Act, outgoing Sen. Edgardo Angara, principal sponsor of the controversial law in the Senate, said he would file amendments to address concerns on libel and the authority given to the justice department to shut down certain websites.

Still, Angara, who is reported to be running for governor of Aurora province and whose son is an administration senatorial candidate, said the country was “much better off” with a cybercrime law than “operating in a large universe without rules.”

To express their outrage over the law, major news outlets, bloggers, rights activists and other critics turned their social media profile pages black.

[PHOTO -Internet: New Philippine cyber law could numb the Net. Philippine's President Aquino has approved a law that activists say curbs freedom of expression on the Net. The law raises surveillance powers and the threat of long jail terms. Deutsche Welle]

Thousands of furious tweets were posted on Twitter, with the hashtag #notocybercrimelaw becoming the top trend on the microblogging site in the Philippines on Wednesday, according to two trend mapping websites.

Others staged street protests and hacked government websites.

Reelectionist Sen. Francis Escudero earlier indicated he wanted to repeal the libel provision in the new law that raised to more than 14 years in prison the cumulative penalties for a single act of online libel.

[PHOTO -Protests at ‘dictatorial’ Philippine cyber law: The Philippine government faced a barrage of protests yesterday as a cybercrime law went into effect that critics said had imposed dictator-style monitoring and policing of the Internet. Major news outlets, bloggers, rights groups and other critics turned their social media profile pages black to express outrage over the law, which could see people face long jail terms for posting defamatory comments online. “This law works against ordinary net users and disregards, among other things, our right to privacy and freedom of expression,” tweeted Noemi Dado, a prominent Manila blogger who edits a citizen media site called Blog Watch. Senator Teofisto Guingona, one of the few members of Parliament who opposed the bill that President Benigno Aquino signed into law last month, also stepped up his campaign to have it overturned. “The implementation of the law... will take back our citizens to the Dark Ages where freedom of speech and expression were not recognized,” he said in a statement. ARAB NEWS AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE Thursday 4 October 2012]

Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, an independent senatorial candidate, warned against Section 6 of the new law that says all offenses under the Revised Penal Code, including libel, committed through technology, shall be charged with a penalty one degree higher than what is provided in the code.

More lawmakers in the Senate and the House of Representatives are coming out in favor of amending the cybercrime law.

Four out of five reelectionists on President Aquino’s senatorial slate, including Escudero, want the online libel provision stricken out of the new law that lawmakers said was initially meant to control pornography and fraud on the Internet.

Ironically, a reelectionist on the other slate, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, wants to give the provision the benefit of the doubt, opting to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision on its constitutionality and the executive branch’s implementing rules and regulations.

At a news conference, Angara indicated openness to amending the “one degree higher” provision “for the sake of fairness.”

Decriminalize libel

However, the senator said: “the sensible solution to that is to decriminalize the Revised Penal Code (RPC) on libel. Then there is no regime on libel in the country. So even if you put it in the cyberlaw, it (becomes) a dead law. That’s the solution there.”

Angara said he would not favor amending the cybercrime law to remove the libel provision as demanded by some quarters. “You cannot decriminalize it on the Internet while it remains a crime under the RPC,” he explained.

In the first place, Angara said libel was difficult to prove.

“Because the rule of libel says the complainant must prove it is utterly false and secondly, that it was motivated by actual malice, not implied. Those two or either one of them is so difficult to prove,” he said.

Angara said libel in the cybercrime law was not something new. “We are just importing the law of libel for print and broadcast into the Internet. Otherwise there would be a zone of impunity. I can begin attacking maliciously the people I hate,” he added.

Suspend application

Angara said he was more “concerned” about the fears raised against Section 19 authorizing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to issue an order to restrict or block access to websites found to be in prima facie violation of the provisions of the new law.

He said he would call Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to urge her to “suspend the application” of that portion of the law “until the necessary amendatory law has been passed.”

Angara said the provision allowed the DOJ to shut down a website if it had been “hacked or attacked or converted for use of an evildoer.”

“I didn’t put this particular provision, I’m trying to trace in the record who introduced it but I’m not shying away from taking responsibility. I think this needs some improvement,” he told reporters.

“What I will propose is that the DOJ can only do that upon a court order, like a warrant issued when authorities arrest or seize,” he said.

[PHOTO -Protests at ‘dictatorial’ Philippine cyber law: MANILA: Filipino journalists and some media group leaders hold their petitions against the Cybercrime Prevention Act as they submitted them to the Supreme Court yesterday]

Establish probable cause

This means authorities must first establish probable cause instead of simply relying on prima facie evidence before a website can be closed.

“I will import the principles of search warrant and arrest into this thing and I will do that immediately,” Angara said.

The senator, however, maintained that the much-maligned law was a necessity given the reality of new technology and its accompanying hassles.

“We need a law like this because of the massive attacks on websites of the government. What about the banks and financial institutions that would be hacked?” he said.

Angara noted that the Philippines was now on the list of top 10 countries in the Asia Pacific targeted by hackers because it lacked the legal framework for the use of the Internet. “This law is an attempt at creating a legal framework of how to expand the use of the Internet without any social or economic harm to others,” he said.

[PHOTO -Protesters of the new cyber law launched a black-themed campaign. - James Cecil S. Yayen]

[PHPTO -Netizens go black on Facebook (The Philippine Star) Filipinos have blacked-out their Facebook and Twitter profile pictures in protest against the controversial Cybercrime Law. The wave of black profile photos has rapidly spread across social media websites after a group called Philippine Internet Freedom Association encouraged the protest. The Inquirer Group also joined the protest by changing its current profile pictures on Twitter with a solid black image. Dubbed “Black Tuesday,” the protest was initiated by the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (Pifa) as part of efforts to stop what it called “Cyber Martial Law.” “Respect our right to free speech, privacy and information,” Pifa wrote in its campaign, followed by the tag line, “Prevent dictatorship. Protect democracy.”]

Put in perspective

Angara urged critics to put the new law in perspective. “We are much better off with (this law) in operation rather than one cyberspace without one. Otherwise we would be operating in a large universe without rules. It would be like an open frontier, a wild wild West sort where anything goes,” he said.

Sen. Loren Legarda and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who have expressed support for Mr. Aquino’s reform agenda, both answered in the affirmative when asked if they were in favor of the removal of the provision penalizing libel in cyberspace.

“I welcome moves to immediately revise some contentious provisions of the cybercrime law while we implement provisions to deter other alarming types of cybercrimes—child pornography, cybersex and computer-related fraud,” Legarda said in a text message.

Trillanes said he would support a move by Escudero to amend Republic Act No. 10175 and remove the provision on online libel.

“I am willing to support his bill if it would expedite the process,” Trillanes told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a text message.

[Photo -Hackers bring down sites on Day One of RA10175: A user browses a social networking site on his smartphone as Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Law takes effect Wednesday amid widespread online protests. The law however, lacks implementing rules and regulations. Asti Flores GMA NEWS]

Amendatory bill

After admitting that the provision on online libel slipped past him, Escudero made good on his promise to file an amendatory bill to the cybercrime law to remove the Section 4 provision that included libel in the list of punishable acts under RA 10175.

“When I signed [the committee report] it still wasn’t there,” Escudero said in an interview after he filed his certificate of candidacy on Tuesday.

Escudero was the chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights that was among the committees that prepared Committee Report No. 30 on the anticybercrime measures filed in the chamber.

The fourth member of the Liberal Party-led coalition that has expressed opposition to the online libel provision was Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano.

In an earlier interview, Cayetano said that while there must be some accountability on those using the Internet, the nature of the liability should be civil rather than criminal.

“It’s a lesson to be learned not only to us [in the Senate] but also to the people,” Cayetano said of the passionate opposition to the cybercrime bill after it was enacted.

“These weren’t brought up before, at least not this passionately,” he said.

Honasan, who also signed Committee Report No. 30, said he was in favor of removing the libel provision but added that he’d like to hear what the Supreme Court had to say on its constitutionality.

Honasan is the chairman of the Senate committee on public information and mass media. “This is premature,” he said of the adverse public reaction to the online libel provision.

The Senate journal for Jan. 24 showed it was during the consideration on second reading in the plenary of Committee Report No. 30 on Senate Bill No. 2796 (the Senate version of the anticybercrime bill) that the inclusion of libel among the punishable acts was made.

[VIDEO -Website ng Pangulo, inatake ng hackers; website ng Kamara at Senado, na-hack din. Date posted: Oct 3, 2012 7:53pm]

It was proposed by Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III.

The bill’s sponsor, Angara, said cyberspace was just a new avenue for publicizing or communicating a libelous statement which is subject to prosecution and punishment as defined by the Revised Penal Code.

Sotto’s proposal was adopted by the Senate without any objection. Shortly afterward, the chamber approved its version of the anticybercrime act without any objection.

The approval on second reading of SB 2796 happened during the morning session of the Senate. The afternoon sessions at the time were dedicated to the impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona.

The Senate journal on Jan. 24 showed that the following senators answered the roll call: Angara, Pia Cayetano, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, Escudero, Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Lito Lapid, Aquilino Pimentel III, Ramon Revilla Jr., Sotto, Trillanes and Villar.

The following arrived after the roll call: Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Franklin Drilon, Teofisto Guingona III, Sergio Osmeña III and Francis Pangilinan.

Bicam committee

Congressional records said the bicameral conference committee that reconciled the disagreeing provisions of the Senate and House versions of the anticybercrime law was led by Angara and Taguig Rep. Sigfrido Tiñga, chairman of the House committee on information communication technology.

Other lawmakers present at the bicam meeting were Trillanes, Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez, Tarlac Rep. Susan Yap, Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento, Pangasinan Rep. Rachel Arenas and Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento.

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said he would file a bill seeking to change the provisions on libel committed online.

Another lawmaker, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, said one solution to the objection to the cybercrime law’s libel provision would be to decriminalize libel. With a report from AFP


Do justices tweet? Cybercrime law to test Sereno court’s tech knowledge By ANDREO CALONZO, GMA NEWS October 3, 2012 3:22pm 

[PHOTO - Real-world protest vs libel provision in anti-cybercrime law: While hackers attack government websites, protesters rally in front of the Supreme Court Tuesday demanding that it strike down objectionable parts of the Cybercrime Prevention Act. Rick Rocamora]

The petitions challenging the Cybercrime Prevention Act will serve as the first major test for the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, lawyers said Wednesday, amid fears that the court does not appreciate modern forms of communication.

SC justices who are not active on social networking sites will have to bone up on what it means to "like" on Facebook and RT on Twitter, common acts which critics of the law say could now trigger libel suits.

Lawyer Argee Guevarra of the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance said the petitions filed before the high court questioning the constitutionality of Republic Act (RA) 10175 will gauge how much the Supreme Court (SC) justices can appreciate modern forms of communication.

“It requires a lot of comprehension of how these technologies work to be able to come up with an intelligent decision on these petitions. I doubt if our justices even have Facebook or Twitter accounts,” Guevarra said in a phone interview.

Lawmakers, including the 78-year-old principal author Senator Edgardo Angara, who pushed for the law appeared caught by surprise by the virulent reaction, perhaps reflecting a gap in understanding of the nature and penetration of social media.

Guevara added that senior justices may have to seek the help of some “friends of the court” to be able to gain sufficient grasp of the Internet, especially social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, which are at the center of the controversy involving the Anti-Cybercrime Law.

“Siguro dapat silang maghanap ng younger lawyers who have the expertise in e-commerce to help them understand the intricacies of this technology,” the lawyer said.

Guevarra further said that Sereno—the youngest SC chief justice to be appointed in this century—will play a key role in the deliberations on the constitutionality of RA 10175.

“She [Sereno] can identify well with these new technologies because of her youth. More senior justices, however, may have traditional views on these new forms of media. The chief justice should be able to help bridge this generation gap,” he said.

The SC failed on Tuesday to issue a temporary restraining order on the implementation of RA 10175 despite seven petitions already filed before the high court questioning the law’s constitutionality.

Because of this, the Cybercrime Prevention Act—which gives the government the authority to access and block certain computer data—took effect on Wednesday amid a slew of protests against it.

[PHOTO -Crusading journalist, lawyer seek SC help vs Cybercrime Law: Lawyer Harry Roque (center) of the Center for Int'l Law accompanies Mindanao-based broadcast journalist Alexander Adonis (left) to the Supreme Court to file a petition for a temporary restraining order against the implementation of the Cybercrime Law for being unconstitutional. Danny Pata]

‘No need to be tech-savvy’

Lawyer Theodore Te, who teaches criminal law at the University of the Philippines, meanwhile said that the SC justices do not necessarily have to be tech-savvy to be able to rule correctly on the petitions against RA 10175.

“They [the justices] just have to be aware that this totally new platform exists, and to determine if online expression should be governed by the same constitutional guarantees that govern traditional forms of expression,” he said in a separate interview.

He however agreed that questions on the constitutionality of the Cybercrime Prevention Act will be the “first important test” of Sereno’s leadership of the high court.

“She [Sereno] is leader of the court. I would expect that she would set the direction on how the court will rule on this,” he said.

On Saturday, constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, also said in a blog post that the SC’s decision on petitions against the anti-cybercrime law “should tell us more about the mind of the new chief justice.”

Bernas also described the new law as “frightening” due to the threat it poses to freedom of expression and to the privacy of communication.

[PHOTO - Anti-cybercrime law could sanitize online world: Under the new Cybercrime Prevention Act, authorities can block access to web sites deemed offensive and Internet users can be sued for libel by simply liking or sharing content that displeases others. Manix Abrera]

A test of independence

Guevarra, for his part, also considers the controversy surrounding RA 10175 as a test of Sereno’s independence.

“The vote of the chief justice will be indicative of her mindset, whether she is progressive or will she just toe the administration’s line,” he said.

“Will the chief justice interpret the law based on jurisprudence or just agree with Malacañang’s pronouncements that this law is good for us?” he added.

Sereno, who was appointed by President Benigno Aquino III as the first woman chief justice last August, has repeatedly vowed to be independent throughout her 18-year term.

The chief justice also promised to make the SC more technologically savvy, saying the Philippines’ young population is no longer shaped by school, family, and traditional media, but by the "insistent and intrusive influence of social media.” — DVM/HS, GMA News

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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