GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/28 September) — More media organizations and a New York-based human rights monitor have joined calls for the immediate repeal of the newly passed Philippine anti-cyber crime law which included internet libel as a criminal offense.
“Cybercrime Prevention Act actually broadens the scope of a libel law so antiquated and draconian that the United Nations Human Rights Council itself declared it excessive and called on the Philippine government to review the law with the end of decriminalizing libel,” said Nestor Burgos,” president of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines.
The new law, signed by President Benigno Aquino III on September 12, also increased the penalty of internet libel to 6 to 12 years. Under the Revised Penal Code, libel carries a prison term of not more than six years. Internet libel is not defined as a criminal act under the said penal code.
In an interview with www.rappler.com, University of the Philippines professor Theodore Te said the law “poses real danger” to people who make a living online.
It could affect users of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, a popular medium of communication among Filipino internet users.
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, “the law drastically increases punishments for criminal libel and gives authorities excessive and unchecked powers to shut down websites and monitor online information.”
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch said the law needs to be repealed and replaced.
Philippine Senator Teofisto Guingona III who voted against the law said Republic Act 10175 is “oppressive and dangerous.”
He said the law virtually has no limitations as to liability.
“The obvious result (of the law) would be a widespread and immediate gag on computer users faced with a law that has no limitations against liability,” the senator added.
Guingona said the law is “demonizing technology.”
“The inclusion of libel among the crimes that may be committed with the use of computers poses a threat not only against the media and other communicators but anyone in the general public who has access to a computer and the Internet,” the NUJP added.
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility warned the anti-cybercrime law will “signal the opening of the floodgates of Internet regulation that will affect Filipino netizens, given the restrictive mindset of the country’s leaders.”
It called on journalists and bloggers to be on alert and be prepared to oppose the law.
“The Cybercrime Prevention Act (RA 10175) this September, suggests how restrictive rather than expansive is the mindset of the country’s legislators, and of Mr. Aquino,” the CMFR said in a statement issued days after the president signed it into law.
As this developed, Centerlaw Philippines said it will file a petition before the Supreme Court to declare the act unconstitutional.
Centerlaw director Rommel Bagares said continued criminal prosecution for libel is a violation of Philippine state obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“The UN Human Rights Committee held in its view in the case of Alexander Adonis v. Republic of the Philippines, where it said that criminal libel is incompatible with free expression,” Bagares said in a press advisory
As of this writing, four petitions have already been filed questioning the legality of the said law. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews contributor)