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Aquino moves to allay cyber fears

President Benigno Aquino III

Faced with escalating street and online protests as well as  hacking of websites, President Benigno Aquino on Wednesday assured the public that no civil liberties would be suppressed under the cybercrime law even as he sought a dialogue with all stakeholders.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and enjoyed online by millions of netizens would not be diminished by the Cybercrime Prevention Act that took effect on Wednesday.

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Proof of this is that no government agency has moved to stop access to the Internet or suppressed liberties enjoyed online, the presidential spokesperson said.

“People are spreading fear of this law but they should also remember the power of the Constitution, the rights that it guarantees. That should be our safe harbor; that should be our refuge,” Lacierda said at a televised Malacañang briefing.

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“Instead of imparting fear, we should be always telling the people our Constitution is there to protect our rights and this President is there to serve and to protect and to defend the Constitution. That is your guarantee,” he added.

On the first day of the effectivity of Republic Act No. 10175, hackers threatened to shut down more websites in protest of its unconstitutional provisions.

At least seven petitions questioning its provisions, including one imposing a higher penalty on online libel and another authorizing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shut down any site with harmful content based on prima facie evidence, are pending in the Supreme Court.

“Today is the first day of the implementation of the law. We have all the papers saying stop e-martial law. There is freedom of expression,” Lacierda said. “We have not stopped anyone from expressing their concerns.”

Amid the furor, Lacierda reminded Filipinos about the primacy of the Constitution which guarantees civil liberties.

“Let us bear in mind the law that binds us all: The Constitution. Our Constitution is clear and uncompromising in the civil liberties it guarantees all our people. As the basic law, its guarantees cannot, and will not, be diminished or reduced by any law passed by Congress,” he said, reading from a prepared statement.

Then he added: “The administration is equally adamant in upholding these liberties, which were regained at such high cost by our people.”

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Lacierda said that no government entity “has moved to deprive anyone of access to the Internet or to suppress civil liberties as exercised online.”

“In fact what has taken place is that hackers who claim to be aligned with critics of the cybercrime act are the ones who have engaged in online vandalism, depriving the broader public of access to much needed government information and services online,” he said.

Lacierda, however, said that something must be done when a website posts the identities and addresses of people with AIDS, and it turns out that they were not suffering from it.

“Seriously, there will be instances where abuses on the expression will be done. So how does one correct that?” he said.

Dialogue

As protests and hacking threatened to go out of hand, Malacañang broached a dialogue between Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and “all stakeholders” before the crafting of the law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

“We urge the fullest and widest participation of stakeholders in this process,” Lacierda said in the statement.

Lacierda, however, said that the IRR would not cure the provisions being questioned in the high tribunal. “The water cannot rise above the source … So the IRR is bound by the law itself,” he said.

Prudent

De Lima said the administration would be “very prudent” in implementing the new law.

She pointed out that the DOJ, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) had yet to come up with the law’s IRR.

“We will gradually handle this matter and very prudently because of the objections being raised and pending petitions (against the law in the Supreme Court). So, even if there’s no TRO (temporary restraining order from the high court), I think the implementation would not be full-blown especially since there still no IRR,” she said.

Selective

De Lima said the authorities would be very selective. “Maybe it’s only in the cases of palpable criminal acts conducted or committed through information and communication technology that law enforcement authorities should address,” she said.

De Lima said the DOJ would coordinate with the DOST and DILG to find out how the IRR could be used in “clarifying or harmonizing those so-called objectionable portions.”

However, she maintained that she has yet to find any unconstitutional provision in the law.

“From my reading of the law, I have yet to see what (others) are claiming to be unconstitutional. If some sectors are worried about the libel provision, let us remember that libel remains to be a criminal offense under the Revised Penal Code,” De Lima said.

“Whether or not that is committed online, that is still punishable under the Revised Penal Code,” she said.

De Lima said the focus of discussion should instead be “the propriety, the legality and the advisability” of the law’s provision that imposes a higher penalty for crimes committed online.

She also defended the law’s provision giving the secretary of justice the power to block online content if these are used in criminal acts.

“There should be no objection there … if you look at other jurisdictions, law enforcement authorities have that power if it is preceded by an investigation,” De Lima said.

De Lima said the IRR would clearly set the standards and grounds that would allow authorities to block or restrict access to erring websites.

Oppose vandalism

Malacañang called on critics to speak out against online vandalism and bullying “with as much vigor and passion as they have expressed in their objections to certain provisions of this law.”

“If our freedoms have been hard won, it would do us all well to remember that in the end, vigilantism harms the cause of freedom of expression and civil liberties for all netizens,” Lacierda said.

“As the President said on Sept. 27, the vigorous exchange of ideas that is the hallmark of a vibrant democracy requires those who disagree not to oppress others,” he added.

Discussions posted online

After bearing the brunt of the criticisms, Malacañang has posted excerpts of Senate deliberations on the bill, from its sponsorship by Sen. Edgardo Angara to its deliberation by the bicameral conference committee, on www.gov.ph.

“We have gathered all the discussions at several dates between 2011 and 2012 and they are now online for everyone to see and to review how the law came about,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda said the provision on online libel was introduced by Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III in the Senate deliberations, while the penalty for online libel was “inserted” during the bicameral conference committee.

“That’s why there has been misinformation on that point,” he said. “There are reasonable limitations and that’s the reason why we are saying the Constitution is there.”

The “takedown” provision, which allows the DOJ to shut down websites with harmful content, was introduced during the Senate deliberation, according to Lacierda.

“The emphasis has been so far on libel and the takedown clause. But if you look at the sponsorship statement of Senator Angara, the policy is very clear. We have no legal framework on addressing cybercrimes specifically on certain areas like cybersex, for instance, cybercrime; we have cyber fraud. And so this is the background where Senator Angara pushed for the cybercrime (law),” he said.

TOPICS: Benigno Aquino, Cybercrime Prevention Act, DOJ, Freedom of expression, Government, Internet, Laws, legislation, Online Libel, Senate, Supreme Court, technology
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