By Aurea Calica - Malacañang has no position yet on the proposal to decriminalize libel filed by senators after the uproar over the inclusion of the libel provision in the controversial Republic Act 10175 or Cybercrime Prevention Act.

[PHOTO -Protesters clap their hands as they hear of the suspension of the anti-cybercrime law during a rally in front of the Supreme Court in Manila, Philippines, Tuesday Oct. 9, 2012. The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended implementation of the country's anti-cybercrime law while it decides whether certain provisions violate civil liberties. The law aims to combat Internet crimes such as hacking, identity theft, spamming, cybersex and online child pornography. An image held by a protester shows President Benigno Aquino III. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)]

“To decriminalize libel, it seems we have not discussed it. Let me consult with my superiors, but as far as I know, I don’t remember any discussions on that recently,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

On Friday, Valte said there was no need for President Aquino to apologize for signing RA 10175 and that the Chief Executive had made clear his position on the issue.

“When it comes to amending the law, there are a number of legislators who have already filed the bills relative to their requested or their suggested amendments,” she said.

Aquino has drawn flak for signing the anti-cybercrime law, which aims to combat Internet crimes such as hacking, identity theft, spamming, cybersex and online child pornography. He earlier defended the law, including its online libel provision, which had been described as a threat to civil liberties.

“I do not agree that the provision on online libel should be removed. Whatever the format is, if it is libelous, then there should be some form of redress available to the victims,” Aquino said.

But the Supreme Court had issued a 120-day stay order against the law’s implementation after receiving 15 separate petitions questioning several of the law’s provisions.

The Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance has urged the President to make a public apology for signing the anti-cybercrime law.

Meanwhile, nine bills seeking to amend the Revised Penal Code to remove the penalty of imprisonment for individuals found to have committed libel were filed by the senators.

Those who filed the bills were Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Loren Legarda, Pia Cayetano and Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano.

Sotto eventually withdrew his bill after hearing Aquino’s initial stand supporting RA 10175.

But the President said he was open to amendments, especially to lower penalties on libel.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan also filed a bill last July which he said was consistent with the constitutional provision prohibiting the passage of any law that would curtail the freedom of speech, expression, and of the press.

His proposal sought the repeal of the libel provision in the Revised Penal Code.

Members of media, the sector most affected by libel, would be required to police their own ranks once libel is decriminalized.

There were actually three bills filed in 2010 for the same purpose, the first by Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, followed by those filed by Senators Edgardo Angara and Francis Escudero.

Angara, the principal author and sponsor of the cybercrime law, said libel must still be punished but not with imprisonment.


Legarda files bills amending cybercrime law, decriminalizing libel By Matikas Santos

MANILA, Philippines—Senator Loren Legarda (photo) on Monday filed two bills seeking to amend the Cybercrime Prevention Act and decriminalize libel.

“I hope to eliminate the chilling effect that may impose undue boundaries on our people’s exercise of freedom of expression,” Legarda said in a statement explaining her filing of a bill to amend the cybercrime law.

“Consistent with the Constitutional mandate of promoting free expression, it is imperative for institutions such as the legislative branch of government to adopt a policy towards the proliferation of a free market of ideas,” she added.

The cybercrime law has been widely criticized as repressive. Several petitions have been filed seeking to revoke or amend the law before the Supreme Court on grounds that it is un-Constitutional. Netizens have also conducted both online and street protests.

Legarda said that there must be a balance between protecting the people from criminal activities and the freedom of expression.

“The vulnerability of the cyberspace to pollutants, such as pornography, cybersex, fraudulent practices and promotion of human trafficking were precisely the reason for the passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012,” she said.

“Adopting such policy to prevent pollutants from spoiling the minds of our people must not be done at the expense of our valued right to free speech,” she added.

Legarda has also filed Senate Bill 3294 seeking to decriminalize libel and removing the penalty of fine and imprisonment.

She pointed out that freedom of speech has been “easily stifled with the mere threat of criminal libel.”

Legarda said that the continued criminalization of libel “will be a huge hindrance in efforts aimed at promoting good governance and exacting accountability on our public officials.”

Sereno to put up IT facilities in courts By Danny Dangcalan (The Philippine Star) Updated October 15, 2012 12:00 AM

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines -– Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (photo) will put up information technology facilities in courts nationwide to fast-track the reporting of cases.

Speaking before 434 judges during the Philippine Judges Association convention at L’Fisher Hotel here Friday, Sereno said the Supreme Court will hire 2,000 legal assistants for each of the 2,000 judges to speed up resolution of cases and reduce their backlog.

Paperless operation will be implemented in the courts, she added.

Sereno said she will talk to President Aquino, Congress, and the private sector to help her implement a 20-year infrastructure investment program.

“The private sector is so eager to help this leadership,” she said.

Sereno rallied the judges to “be a part of an intelligent plan over the next 20 years.”

Court infrastructure will be maintained and upgraded, she added.

Sereno urged the judges to “finish the work before us” by being “speedy and responsive, rational and predictable.”

“I have committed myself to a life of moderation and honesty, so as not to give you a reason to doubt my agenda,” she said.

“I am committed to pour my heart into my work, so you will have a chief justice you all can be proud of.

“I will try to avoid putting myself into a situation where I cannot judge rightly. You already know my thoughts. The CJ writing an opinion (on jurisprudence) is the same person who talks to you now.”

She is “very hopeful for the future” that the Philippine judiciary would be reformed for the better under her watch, she added.

Sereno said she will work for the material welfare of around 2,000 judges nationwide.

The government should also recognize their needs, she added.

Sereno said the national government has assured her that the salaries and benefits of all workers in the judiciary will not be diminished.

“I wish to bring stability in your professional life,” she said.

The last thing the country needs now is a demoralized judiciary, she added.

Sereno assured the judges that constant changes in leadership will not hamper her reforms as she will be in office for the next 18 years.

“There will be no surprises, there will be predictability in the way the judiciary is run,” she said.

Sereno said judges will be promoted based on a merit-based system, where good work will be recognized and politics will be minimized.

“I must not give you any reason to doubt my intentions, or to suspect I have any hidden agenda,” she said.

“I have committed myself to a life of moderation and modesty.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved