2012 (PHILSTAR) No law can be passed that curtails rights guaranteed by the Constitution. That’s the argument given by government officials who are urging the public to give the Cybercrime Prevention Act a chance to work. Whether the argument is valid is now up to the Supreme Court to decide, as the tribunal tackles petitions challenging the constitutionality of Republic Act 10175.

In the wake of widespread protests especially online, several lawmakers who supported the passage of the measure are backpedaling. The positive objectives of RA 10175 – going after terrorists and purveyors of pornography, for example – have been overshadowed by the inclusion of online libel as a new criminal offense whose penalty is a degree higher than libel committed through traditional media as defined under the Revised Penal Code. Human rights advocates have also raised concern over provisions, some of them vaguely worded, which give the government broad powers to monitor and block access to online data and social media.

The Supreme Court did not grant petitions to stop the start last week of the implementation of RA 10175. Members of Congress and the executive branch have urged critics to wait for the implementing rules and regulations before raising a howl.

If the SC declares the new law or portions of it unconstitutional, it will not speak well of the legislative process. The provision on libel was reportedly a last-minute “insertion” by the bęte noir of the online community, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto. Some senators are claiming they did not bother to read the insertion. This is a troubling admission of a cavalier attitude in crafting legislation. It gives an indication of why too many laws in this country cannot be properly enforced.

The Human Security Act, for example, included silly provisions that threatened long prison terms for law enforcers engaged in legitimate counterterrorism operations. Cops don’t want to apply the law, and it has proved useless as a weapon against terrorism. Certain provisions of the Clean Air Act have also been deemed impractical and are now routinely violated. And then there’s the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001, which requires an amendment almost for every small batch of predicate crimes that it can cover.

Legislation does not come free; public funds are needed for the upkeep of the two chambers. Time is also precious; many urgent matters call for legislation. For the multimillion-peso pork barrel allocations and fat commissions legislators enjoy, they must at least be able to churn out laws that do not require amendment as soon as these come into force.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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