AQUINO MAY BE OUSTED FOR CYBERCRIME LAW, SAYS LAWMAKER
 

MANILA, OCTOBER 8, 2012 (INQUIRER) By Jerome Aning, Cathy Yamsuan -  Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino, one of the complainants against newly enacted Republic Act No. 10075 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, on Sunday said President Benigno Aquino could be impeached for enforcing the controversial law.

Palatino said the President’s insistence on the retention of the libel provisions in the law would result in the abridgement of the freedom of speech, which would made the Chief Executive liable for impeachment on the grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of the public trust.

“If Aquino is insisting that we accept the new law, not only is he violating the Constitution, he is also betraying the public’s trust, both of which are impeachable offenses,” Palatino said.

The Supreme Court is expected to tackle over 10 petitions against the cybercrime law during an en banc session tomorrow. Yet another petition will reportedly be filed Monday by Bayan Muna led by Rep. Neri Colmenares.

“We warn you P-Noy (Aquino), masquerading as a ‘clean’ President doesn’t make you unimpeachable. If you continue to betray the public’s trust, the masses are ready to call not only for your impeachment but for your ouster,” Palatino said.

Palatino did not say if he would initiate the impeachment complaint against the President.

Both the House and the Senate, which would act as the impeachment prosecutor and court, respectively, are dominated by Aquino allies.

The President on Friday said he did not agree that the provision on online libel should be removed and that he had to enforce the law—otherwise he could be “impeached for dereliction of duty.”

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, chairperson of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of laws, predicted the Supreme Court would declare it unconstitutional, citing the “overbroad and too vague” language used in the law’s provisions.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile urged the public to let the Supreme Court deal with the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

“Let’s leave it in the hands (“ipaubaya na natin”) of the Supreme Court. That’s how the system works. Besides, we (lawmakers) cannot say we are always right. We are not gods. If something goes wrong in the executive or legislature, there is the Constitution and the Supreme Court to make a decision,” Enrile said in Filipino.

But Enrile insisted that the Senate observed proper procedures when it debated on and eventually approved its version of the cybercrime bill.

However, he lamented that he was not able to fully monitor the debates that happened in December.

Enrile admitted he was not an expert on the Internet or information technology. Also, he said he was too busy preparing for his role as presiding officer of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona when the debates took place.

Earlier reports said that during the December interpellations, the debates centered on the definition and penalties for sex-related offenses like cybersex. The online libel provision was not discussed extensively at the time.

Anti-cybercrime law: It may be harsh to call me a cybercriminal, but the new law says I am By Alfredo Morales-Santos Philippine Daily Inquirer 11:06 pm | Thursday, October 4th, 2012 

Most people would agree that there is a need to curb the prevalence of cyberbullying. But should it be at the expense of free speech?

Like the lights on a building going out one by one, I watched my newsfeed on Facebook and Twitter get crowded with black squares as people switched their headers and profile pictures to demonstrate their protest against the anti-cybercrime law.

A screen capture of an inane question from a senatorial aspirant, on whether the law infringes on the freedom of expression, was immediately trending.

Sen. Tito Sotto, everyone’s favorite punching bag, was immediately at the forefront of the discussion, landing in Forbes. National heroes like José Rizal and Apolinario Mabini were pictured gagged with a censoring black bar. The Internet Armageddon is about to hit Philippine cyberspace.

The anti-cybercrime law received outright condemnation from various sectors in and outside the Philippines. The primary issue against it is the provision on cyberlibel snuck in by Sen. Tito Sotto, who proudly admitted it, and sees nothing wrong with having done so.

A columnist in Forbes magazine said the law, due to the provision on cyberlibel, makes the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) in the US seem reasonable, as the latter only seeks to take down “file-sharing.” International organizations, along with the local human rights watch, had expressed concerns that this is a step backward for the Philippines, which is already behind the international community in decriminalizing libel.

Exception

Under the new law, cyberlibel imposes a penalty of reclusion perpetua, a greater penalty than ordinary libel. Sotto reasoned that if mainstream media are liable for ordinary libel, what is so special with bloggers and users of social media that merits exception to the threat of penalty? He says the law will make the people act more responsibly on cyberspace. He is on a mission to civilize, to single-handedly change the culture on the Internet.

“Yes, I did it. I inserted the provision on libel. Because I believe in it and I don’t think there’s any additional harm.”—Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto III (in an article written by Paul Tassi, published in www.forbes.com, Oct. 2).

Statements like this, in the word of the Forbes columnist, only reveals a lack of understanding of how the Internet works. It is saddening because it also shows a disconnect between the upper rung of the power structure in the Philippines and the general populace, particularly with the middle class, who use the Internet to express grievances against the government.

This does a great disservice to the cause. Most people would agree that there is a need to curb the prevalence of cyberbullying. But should it be at the expense of free speech? The problem with the provision on cyberlibel is, it is vague, with enough wiggle room to enable the government to crack down on dissenters.

Internet giant Google, the second most valuable company in the world, decreed, “Democracy works on the Web.” Cyber-space recently showed this in action on Reddit, when a college student posted a photo of a Sikh woman sporting body hair. It immediately received a backlash, and overturned the table in favor of the woman who shared her belief with the users of the social media.

There are studies that show that anonymity on the Internet makes people more mean, because it allows them to escape accountability. Websites, especially news outlets, responded to this problem by installing the service Disqus, which obliges readers to use Facebook and other social media to identify themselves, to allow readers to comment. This has resulted in more intelligible discourses on the web.

There is still the problem of fictitious accounts. But it’s a problem that is nearing a solution, too. Facebook has recently cracked down on fake accounts on their website. The point is, like a free market, the Web has a way of regulating and correcting itself without need for too much interference from the government.

Jeff Jarvis, in his book “What Would Google Do,” documents how netizens use the Internet to express their dissatisfaction with corporation. Jarvis popularly took on hardware maker Dell due to its bad customer service. He subsequently collaborated with the tech giant on how to make their product better. Jarvis continues on this theme, expounding on how the Internet enables “power sharing” between corporations and the ordinary consumer. The concentration of power in corporation is democratized through the Internet—and it works!

This is the same thing that’s happening in the Philippines. Filipinos are the top users of social media websites like Facebook. We have shifted from being the text capital of the world to being the social-media capital of the world. It was only a matter of time when this shift also influenced how we govern ourselves. Filipinos quickly express their grievances against the government on Facebook newsfeed, instead of physically taking it to the parliaments of the streets.

Government leaders and officers were quickly dumbfounded by the instant publicity for their inactions and mistakes. They found themselves in a situation where their power meant nothing. The Internet has shifted control to the Filipinos on Facebook and Twitter.

But there are government leaders who quickly acknowledged this reality. Sen. Pia Cayetano and Sen. Chiz Escudero are among the popular politicians on Twitter, and they engage their followers and address their grievances.

Escudero said the cyberlibel provision was a mistake, while Cayetano admitted, on Twitter, that she missed out on the provision.

New media

President Aquino actively used social media in his 2010 campaign, even installing a New Media group under Leah Navarro of the Black and White Movement. Interestingly, Sotto is inactive on social media.

To be fair to President Aquino, his only course of action is to sign the law or veto it as a whole (line vetoing is only allowed in budget acts). He must have weighed the good and the bad of the law, and found that there is a pressing need to curb evils like child pornography, piracy and hacking, among others. The ball is now with the Supreme Court, and it is up to them to strike down provisions that it deems in conflict with the Constitution. Escudero and Cayetano have already filed an amending bill.

The fiasco over the anti-cybercrime law only goes to show the ability of Internet users to influence government and serve as a platform to counter legislation and policies that are deemed detrimental to the people. Leaders are able to quickly see the clamor for it, and respond. Not only does the Internet make for a participative government; it also compels the government to be more responsive.

My newsfeed is still on a blackout. It makes chatting a little tricky, but it’s a small sacrifice to make to take a stand against the provision on cyberlibel.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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