CEGP-Central Luzon: E-Martial Law, a pool of contradiction, a threat to cyber freedom

Reference:

Monica Del Puerto

Chairperson, CEGP-Central Luzon

E-Martial Law: a pool of contradiction, a threat to cyber freedom

The internet has become a medium of expression for the citizens and journalists of the new generation. After all, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) promotes online freedom of expression as a basic human right. But the creation of RA 10175 or Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 now poses a threat to freedom of speech, expression and of the press, a clear contradiction to Article III, Section 4 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

A mere lip service

The Cybercrime Prevention Act was introduced in July 2011 and was signed in September 2012 while the overdue Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, which has been certified by President Benigno Aquino III (PNoy) as a priority bill in January 2012, was introduced in 2008 and is still pending. One can easily compare the pace of the contradicting laws and one can easily tell the reason behind it.

The FOI bill is intended to aid in transparency which is a democratic right as well. Article III, Section 7 of our constitution recognizes our right “to information on matters of public concern”. After all, PNoy vowed for transparency during his campaign in 2010. He even made a commitment to press freedom during the World Press Freedom Day last May. Paradoxically, Malacañang’s support appears to be dwindling. They said they still have to review the bill for possible holes that may cause national security risk. This made us wonder if they made the same consideration of reviewing the questionable provisions of RA 10175 as well.

The government’s way of prioritizing bills appears to be a sort of cost-benefit analysis – the FOI bill will benefit the media and the public but will cost “security risk” while Cybercrime Prevention Act will benefit the politicians but will cost invasion of privacy to the netizens. If PNoy maintains that we – the citizens – are really his “boss”, then isn’t it just righteous of him to opt for the one which will be more beneficial to us?

Riddling loopholes

There are several ambiguous provisions that are yet to be addressed in the said law though PNoy already signed it last year. Among these are the issues discussed in the first oral arguments last January 15:

  • Cybersex, which is under content-related offenses, was defined in Section 4(c)(1) as “the willful engagement, maintenance, control, or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favor or consideration.” However, it failed to make a distinction between consensual and non-consensual acts and it was not clearly indicated who among the involved persons committing this offense will be penalized.
  • Online libel in Section 4(c)(4) was defined as “the unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.” This means, though it has the same elements as libel defined in RPC, committing it online could get you imprisoned for up to 12 years. The congress continues to ignore demands for the decriminalization of libel. We all know that the insertion of libel clause and making it a criminal offense will only serve as an instrument for the politicians to manipulate and harass the media.
  • Section 5(a), the provision that really puzzles the netizens, also constitutes “aiding or abetting to libelous contents” as an offense. The definition is so vague that even the lawmakers cannot explain or defend it consistently. How can a citizen be aware if he is already committing a crime? Does sharing, retweeting or liking libelous posts earns one a ticket to jail?
  • Section 6 of the said law states that “penalty to be imposed shall be one (1) degree higher than that provided for by the Revised Penal Code.” According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), it’s easier to commit these offenses since pretty much everyone has internet access nowadays. Still, it’s not enough of an explanation especially how they would distinguish libel from online libel.
  • Section 12 or the real-time collection of data allows the respective authorities “to collect or
  • record by technical or electronic means traffic data in real-time associated with specified
  • communications transmitted by means of a computer system.” It evidently violates our right to “the privacy of communication and correspondence” as indicated in Article III, Section 3 of our constitution.
  • The dubious takedown power of the DOJ which is stated in Section 19 means it no longer needs a court intervention to “restrict or block access to such computer data”. This, again, is a contradiction to Article III, Section 1 of our Constitution – “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”

Refuse to be gagged

As an advocate of press freedom, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) – Central Luzon supports the campaign against Cybercrime Prevention Act. CEGP Tarlac will conduct a forum to better inform the people about their basic rights to freedom and educate them about the hazards of the said law. The said forum will be held in Tarlac State University on January 31, 2013. We will also have a photo campaign called “Pose to Oppose” where people can express their disapproval with Cybercrime Law through photo opps.

As the temporary restraining order (TRO) expires on February 6, let us join the National Day of Protest to Junk Cybercrime Law. It’s time for PNoy to hear out his real “boss”.

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