SF CHRP (San Francisco Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines) is a San Francisco based human rights advocacy group. Latest news and views on human rights in the Philippines.
There has been more upheaval and reaction to the current cybercrime law by the international community and by Filipinos abroad and within the Philippines.
Terra Quismundo for the Daily Inquirer reported on the reaction of the law by national democratic activists, lawyers, and politicians in the Philippines:
Calling it “the broadest and most comprehensive” petition yet against the law, sectoral representatives, student groups, members of media and a representative from the academe on Monday asked the Supreme Court to stop the law’s implementation fearing it would curb free speech and freedom on the Internet.
The petition, the sixth to be filed against Republic Act No. 10175, seeks the issuance of writs of prohibition and mandamus to stop Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima from enforcing the new law.
Lawyer Terry Ridon, Kabataan partylist president and general counsel, said the petition also seeks a judicial review of the law as the petitioners questioned its constitutionality.
The law has become contentious for a provision criminalizing libel online and “any other similar means which may be devised in the future,” thus inhibiting freedom in online platforms, mainly social media.
“Among all petitions filed in the Supreme Court that assail the Cybercrime Law, we can say that this is the broadest, as the petitioners include youth leaders, online media practitioners, artists and members of the academe,” said Ridon in a statement.
The petitioners included Kabataan partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino, ACT Teachers partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio, Anakbayan national chair Vencer Crisostomo, National Union of Students of the Philippines secretary general Isabelle Baguisi, Karatula chair Michael Beltran, Philippine Collegian editor in chief Katherine Elona and Dean Roland Tolentino of the University of the Philippine College of Mass Communication.
“We call on the high court to act swiftly on this petition, as the implementation of RA 10175 will endanger the Internet freedom of Filipinos,” [Ridon] added.
Our sister organization, the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, released this statement:
“It’s an utter display of arrogance, manipulation and abuse of power by certain Philippine politicians, including the Philippine President Noynoy Aquino,” stated Gary Labao, a member of NYCHRP. Labao also echoed the same position of many Philippine groups have tagged the act a form of “e-martial law” as it is reminiscent of the 1972 declaration in many aspects.
Globally, Filipinos are among the top users of major social media networks, like Facebook and Twitter. “The internet has become the most common medium of communication,” explained Krystle Cheirs, a member of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment. “For the government to pass a law that would limit the rights of anyone to express themselves, where activating a ‘like’ button can be deemed as ‘libel,’ would be nothing short of fascism,” Cheirs stated.
“Particularly for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), the internet is the most accessible means of contact with family and friends in the Philippines. Can you imagine a simple exchange over the internet on updates and opinions on Philippine politics?” posed Cheirs. “With the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, these exchanges could criminalize your loved ones back in the Philippines, and send them to prison,” she concluded.
The international human rights advocacy organization, Human Rights Watch, has also expressed concern for the new law:
“The cybercrime law needs to be repealed or replaced,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “It violates Filipinos’ rights to free expression and it is wholly incompatible with the Philippine government’s obligations under international law.”
A section on libel specifies that criminal libel, already detailed in article 355 of the Philippines Revised Penal Code, will now apply to acts “committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.” The new law drastically increases the penalty for computer-related libel, with the minimum punishment raised twelve-fold, from six months to six years. The maximum punishment is doubled from six to twelve years in prison.
“Anybody using popular social networks or who publishes online is now at risk of a long prison term should a reader – including government officials – bring a libel charge,” Adams said. “Allegedly libelous speech, online or offline, should be handled as a private civil matter, not a crime.”
When citizens face prison time for complaining about official performance, corruption, or abusive business practices, other people take notice and are less likely to draw attention to such problems themselves, undermining effective governance and civil society.
Several journalists in the Philippines have been imprisoned for libel in recent years, leaving a blot on the country’s record on press freedom. In the case of Davao City radio journalist Alexander Adonis, who was convicted in 2007 of libel and spent two years in prison, the United Nations Human Rights Committee determined that the Philippine government violated article 19 on the right to freedom of expression and opinion of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The committee called on the Philippine government to decriminalize libel.