Contrary to notions about online libel as a recent invention – in Philippine terms – under the new Anti-Cybercrime Law, University of the Philippines law professor Jesus Jose Disini is saying otherwise based on a Supreme Court decision way back in 2010.
Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was signed into law on Sept. 12, and has since elicited criticisms – especially its online libel provision – from netizens and press freedom advocates.
Prosecuting Internet libel has long been a debate in legal circles around the world .
In a Sept. 5 report published in the UK-based daily The Guardian, Internet creator Tim Berners-Lee said the worldwide web “has no turn-off button,” and thus difficult for any government to control.
Issues on jurisdiction – a court’s authority to try a case – and forum-shopping or selection of the most favorable court to try a case have been raised almost in tandem with discussions on laws dealing with the Internet.
In the case of the Philippines, Disini said that the 2010 Yuchengco Internet libel suit set a fitting jurisprudence to all these.
“The ruling will apply… Nawawala na ‘yung issue ng jurisdiction at forum shopping doon,” said Disini said in a interview with GMA News Online.
The decision “ordered the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) to dismiss the libel complaint filed by the advertising arm of the Yuchengco Group of Companies (YGC) against a group of parents who put up an Internet web site for individuals affected by the collapse of Pacific Plans Inc. (PPI), a pre-need company that is a subsidiary of the YGC-owned Great Pacific Life Assurance Corp.”
According to the ruling, online libel cases should be tried in the place where the subject article or post was first published or read by the complainant.
It overturned the 2007 resolution from then Secretary of Justice Raul Gonzales that “the crime of Internet libel was non-existent.”
In an earlier report, authors of RA 10175 said the libel provision was “inserted” only during the bicameral conference.
What about the minors?
Media groups and press freedom advocates deemed RA 10175 a threat to press freedom.
According to bloggers and legal experts, more than freedom of the press, the right of ordinary netizens, and bloggers to freedom of expression is imperiled by new law.
In a Sept. 19 report on GMA News’ “State of the Nation (SONA) with Jessica Soho,” Jane Uymatiao of Blogwatch said, “Ang problema ko sa bagong cybercrime law, kasi, covered yung mga bata…. Pag usapan natin yung mga hindi na minors… yung mga batang ‘to, halimbawa, pag kumain sila sa restaurant, o pag may customer service na hindi maganda, yung iba sa kanila, isinusulat iyon sa blog nila… So, are they covered by cybercrime law? Mukha, e.
“Ang problema dito, pag hindi nagustuhan ng receipient… kaagad, pwedeng gamitin ang cybercrime law as a defense, as a tool to harass, to intimidate, and all that,” Uymatiao added.
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What is more dangerous is that the cybercrime law carries heavier punishments for libel. “One degree higher ‘yung penalties,” Disini said.
Under the Revised Penal Code, the punishment for those guilty of libel is up to four years in prison. Under the new law, the penalty for online libel is up to 12 years in prison, plus four more years for violating provisions of the RPC or a total of 16 years.
In his blog, Atty. Harry Roque – also of the UP College of Law – said, “And because parole, a means by which a convict may be spared from actual imprisonment may be granted only to those sentenced to serve a prison term for no more than six months and one day, anyone convicted for cyber libel will inevitably serve a prison term.”
“By criminalizing internet libel, government expanded the infringement of freedom of expression even to the realm that has enabled us to give life to the principle of a free market place of ideas – the internet,” Roque added.
Intellectual Property Office legal consultant and San Beda law professor Atty. Numeriano Rodriguez concurred, saying that it is a “sad day for press freedom and for every Filipino who cherishes his right to express himself.”
Rodriguez even said in an email interview, “(I)n one stroke, the Cybercrime Prevention Act has effectively extended the coverage of the libel law to the internet, thereby exponentially expanding the havoc it can inflict on journalists.”
Haul the law to court
While there is no way that the law can be repealed, Disini said it is up to advocates of anti-cyber libel to haul RA 10175 before the Supreme Court on a complaint of unconstitutionality.
“The only one to stop this is the Supreme Court,” said Disini.
A group of bloggers, interviewed on GMA News’ “SONA,” said they support the move and would likely file a case of unconstitutionality before the high tribunal. — VS/TJD, GMA New