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Philippine Cybercrime Law halted amid protests

ASIA SERIES : PART 4

The Philippine government passed a law in September that aims to combat internet crimes such as hacking, pornography, and other online crimes.

The Republic Act 10175, or the Philippine Cybercrime Act of 2012, dubbed “e-martial law” by critics, while appearing to be well-intentioned, makes online libel a crime, doubling the penalty compared to offline libel. According to the existing Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, libel is already punishable by law.

The new law effectively means that simply “liking” a post on Facebook or retweeting a post on Twitter can put a social media user to jail. There has been no such case yet but once the law is in effect, it would certainly happen because the law punishes libelous materials and the spread of such data. There has been no law in the past that oppresses such freedom of expression in the Philippines or elsewhere in the world.

The law also blocks access to websites that are deemed to violate it. The government has argued that the law aims to curb online pornography and cyber-bullying. In August, a Philippine Senator, Vicento Sotto III, claimed to be a victim of cyber-bullying after the Philippine online community called his attention for plagiarising a portion of his speech.

Not surprisingly, the Philippines’ online community, journalists, bloggers and media groups put on a united front to oppose the law, with at least 15 petitions filed before the Philippine Supreme Court to repeal the act.

Photo by Irish Flores from the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance website.

Social media users in the Philippines and news agencies changed their profile pictures on Facebook and Twitters with black posts as a sign of protest. Hackers belonging to the group Anonymous Philippines also defaced several government websites as a sign of protest.

Luis Teodoro, journalism professor and former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, wrote  in a blog post: “The chilling consequence would be self-censorship, and the subsequent decay of the  press traditions of investigation and criticism in the old media, while the exuberance that has characterized Internet communication in this country would decline into conformity and acquiescence – if the Act does not otherwise silence millions of critical websites, and bloggers and social media activists.”

In response to the petitions, on 9 October the Supreme Court suspended implementation of the law for 120 days (four months).

International groups such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch criticised the government for passing such law and commended the High Tribunal for its move to suspend it.

“We commend the Philippines Supreme Court for issuing a temporary restraining order against the Cybercrime Prevention Act. The court should now go further by striking down this seriously flawed law,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch in a statement sent to journalists.

He said that if Congress still wants to have a law governing online activity, it should ensure that such a law would not infringe on civil liberties, human rights, the Constitution and the Philippines’ obligations under international law.

“All provisions in Philippine law that allow for imprisonment for peaceful expression should be repealed. Congress should also ensure that any discussion on proposed laws be done in a transparent manner,” he said.

Media groups also criticised the government for passing a law that puts the country back in the era of martial law, referring to the military regime under the 20-year reign of the late Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s to early 1980s.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in its petition the law would put the Philippines under “cyber authoritarianism”.


Video Courtesy: Rappler.com

With the suspension of the law, the NUJP said it is only partial victory.

It said vigilance must continue for the repeal of the law and the overall decriminalisation of libel in the country.


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About The Author(s)



Iris Gonzales

Iris Gonzales

Journalist

I'm a Manila-based journalist and blogger. At present, I work for The Philippine Star, covering public finance and the macroeconomy but I also write many other stories here and there. I blog about development and human rights issues for the London-based The New Internationalist.

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