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Cyberlaw backers blink

More lawmakers ready to amend act

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.

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.”

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

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.

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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.

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.”

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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

TOPICS: Cybercrime Prevention Act, DOJ, Edgardo Angara, Freedom of expression, Government, Internet, Laws, legislation, Online Libel, Senate, technology
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