‘Something wrong’

The oral arguments on the constitutionality of the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act at the Supreme Court on Tuesday gave free speech and Internet freedom advocates a boost. But whether some justices were merely playing devil’s advocate or testing the limits of the petitioners’ positions, lines of reasoning were also used at the 4-hour hearing that should give the public pause. Those who share the view that Republic Act No. 10175 should be declared unconstitutional—and antidemocratic at its core—cannot afford to be complacent.

The so-called double jeopardy aspect of the law came under the most withering scrutiny. Section 7 allows a person accused of libel to be prosecuted both under the Revised Penal Code (RPC) and the new law. But unlike the crime of issuing bouncing checks, which can be prosecuted under both the RPC and Batas Pambansa No. 22, Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro pointed out that no extra element distinguished Section 7 from the RPC’s libel provisions.

“But in this case, there is no additional element to distinguish crime under this law and what is included in the RPC. What is mentioned in Section 7 is not an element of the crime. What Section 6 penalizes is the same as that in the RPC,” De Castro said.

Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta was even more categorical. “By increasing the penalty by one degree, you are already providing for a different kind of libel but no new element was introduced,” he said, as quoted in the story filed by Inquirer.net reporter Tetch Torres. “Section 7 is clearly infirm. There is something wrong with this.”

To be sure, two justices do not make a majority, but it is difficult to imagine an argument the solicitor general will make next week, when the Court resumes oral arguments, that can convincingly overcome this clear infirmity.

Last September, we characterized the new law’s extension of existing RPC provisions on libel to “cyberspace” as unthinking. The act, we wrote, “takes the dangerously outmoded provisions on libel in the Revised Penal Code—and dumps them online.” The lack of a distinguishing element is more proof of that shoddy process.

On the very issue of online libel, however, two appointees of President Aquino raised hypothetical questions and offered tentative arguments that we found disquieting.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno asserted that “There is absolutely nothing that you can delete in cyberspace”—a familiar assertion, to be sure, but in fact a somewhat inaccurate one, depending on how one defines that now-quaint term cyberspace. The popularity of new apps like Snapchat is premised precisely on their ephemerality; shared images are designed to disappear after a few moments. Not everything will be lost, of course; some users will decide to save some images. And it isn’t true, at least it isn’t true just yet, that everything uploaded online can be found through search engines, such as Google.

Sereno’s point, of course, is that a libelous statement online acquires new dimensions. True enough, but absolutist statements about a rapidly changing, indeed revolutionary phenomenon like the Internet are not helpful. The notion that “absolutely nothing” can be deleted online can only encourage extreme or maximalist reasoning.

The newest member of the Court, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, wondered aloud about the multiplier effect of social media. “Can you imagine the power of somebody with about 700,000 Twitter followers attacking a single person who may not even have a Twitter account? Is it not the obligation of the State to protect ordinary citizens from this?”

Yes, but if Leonen is suggesting that “cyberbullying” is the primary or even only consideration, then he is offering a false choice. It is the obligation of the State both to offer protection to ordinary citizens and to protect the freedom of expression of every citizen. The State must guarantee not only that the power of a Twitter celebrity can be checked, but also and especially that the right to express one’s self, whether on Twitter or anywhere else, is protected and encouraged.

If he is hoping that the Cybercrime Prevention Act will provide the necessary balance, he will be disappointed.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=45017

Tags: Cybercrime law , Government , internet , judiciary , Legislation , online libel , Supreme Court , Technology

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


  • Title of new Hillary Clinton book: ‘Hard Choices’
  • Filipinos, Dutch re-enact crucifixion of Christ
  • 14 killed in car bombing in Homs
  • 57-nation group plays key Ukraine monitoring role
  • French President Hollande’s top aide resigns
  • Sports

  • Nadal ousted by Ferrer in Monte Carlo quarters
  • Pacquiao shorts in Bradley fight sold for P1.7M in LA auction
  • Ryu pitches Dodgers past Giants
  • Alonso sets the pace in Chinese GP practice
  • Heat seek Three-peat but Spurs, Pacers top seeds
  • Lifestyle

  • Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87
  • Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • Entertainment

  • EXO postpones release of mini album ‘Overdose’
  • ‘X-men’ filmmaker slams ‘fabricated’ sex attack claims
  • Singer Chris Brown’s bodyguard on trial in DC
  • Whoopi Goldberg debuts as marijuana columnist
  • ‘X-men’ director accused of sex assault on teen boy
  • Business

  • Italy sells luxury state cars on eBay
  • Asian shares mostly up in quiet trade
  • Dollar up in Asia on US jobs data, Ukraine deal
  • Barbie doll has a problem
  • Oil prices mixed ahead of long Easter weekend
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • Filipina accomplice arrested for fake bills in Malaysia
  • DoH denies Filipino nurse no longer positive for MERS virus
  • WHO warns vs spread of MERS-Cov, urges vigilance in taking precautions
  • Last call for nominations to ’14 Presidential Awards
  • San Francisco business coalition slams proposed tax on sugary drinks
  • Marketplace