NOTE: This is a 2012 article, currently being updated for 2017. In line with the revival of this site, the article will be updated to reflect the current political situation in the Philippines.
And so the Philippine Republic Act No. 10175 or “Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012” took effect last October 3, 2012. This happened amid the immense outrage of online media groups and individual Filipino online users, including me. So what’s with all the uproar? At first glance, this law seems to stand on firm ground. But that’s only on the first glance.
The Philippines is in deep need of firm cyber-related laws in order to police online crimes within it’s sovereign territory. In the past, our country could barely deal with online pornography, online child abuse, online scams, online viruses and the like, due to the weakness of our constitution in dealing with computer related stuff.
Of course, the framework of our constitutional backbone was done back during the glory days of the post-people power revolution. It was an era of landline phones, CRT televisions, and printed newspapers; nothing digital whatsoever. Then came the digital age, something our government is still slowly adapting to. The RA 10175 was a law long awaited and badly needed. With this law, we could have some teeth against online identity theft, fraud, pornography, among others.
However, as the law was passed, keen eyes observed a disturbing provision on Chapter II, Section 4.c.4: That of Online Libel. By the most basic definition, libel simply means lambasting/discrediting a person or institution causing dishonor or defaming the said victim.
The said provision in RA 10175 merely pushes into the online world the regulations stipulated on Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code which states that libel by means of writing or other similar means would have a fine of 200 to 6,000 Pesos, or an imprisonment of 6 months to 6 years.
In addition, Section 6, Chapter II of the bill states that the penalties imposed would be one degree higher than prision correccional that was stated in the Revised Penal Code. This ultimately means an imprisonment of up to 12 years! And this from seemingly libelous postings in the internet.
Another disturbing provision is the Chapter IV of the bill which concerns on computer data collection & seizure powers of the Philippine government, as well as the power to block internet sites found to be in violation of the bill. While this could be a much needed power to combat the evils of online scam and pornography, websites which have dissenting opinions concerning the government could also be shut down by prima facie (upon appearance alone and without needing to present other substantial evidence).
Thus, RA 10175 has been dubbed by Filipinos worldwide as the E-Martial Law.
While the rest of the Cybercrime Law would do our country good, the libel provision in particular has sent warning bells ringing among Filipino Netizens. For one, critics of the corrupt lawmakers, pedophile theological ministers, unsavory actresses, greedy businessmen, and more, would be essentially gagged in the internet. The above mentioned people would now have the power to clamp down the noise of the Filipino Educated Juans.
Others may call these recent protests as paranoia, but here in viewpoint of the Philippine Political Reality, silencing the noisy critics of the government could be a really high possibility.
The internet is now a global necessity, no longer a privilege of the intellectual or financial elite. The ordinary man could now voice out and be heard by millions, complementing the works of the few vigilant journalists who write for printed papers and broadcast on televised media. The world wide web has literally become one of the tools of democracy, with a prime example being the Arab Spring where it was extensively used to unite the populace and topple down authoritarian regimes.
There are indeed dangers and downsides of too much freedom and democracy, that of the mob rule and anarchy. With this, the internet could also be abused by intellectually lacking people to curse foul mouthed words and bring down otherwise honest and helpless victims by means of viral posts. But this is what the internet was originally designed for during the era of Nuclear scares: to propagate and be uncontrollable. Not even the United States of America, with all its technological ingenuity, could control the critics, hackers, and cyber criminals in its population.
On a positive note, while there are abusers of posts to malign victims, a majority of the Filipino Netizens are responsible posters on forums and other social networks, ranging from the cultural to economic to political.
Unbelievably, no one seemed to own up as to who inserted the damning provision during its readings in the senate. Of the senators who voted for the bill’s passing, the bill’s author did not even know who inserted the libel provision, another one admitted oversight while studying the bill, and the others now claim to file future bills to immediately amend RA 10175. The alleged senator who inserted the bill denied outright his deed, while his chief of staff is saying otherwise. Well, it’s more fun in the Philippines.
Also, some of our honorable senators have admitted on not knowing what a blog means. It merely shows that they have not deeply studied this bill before voting it into law. According to the January 24 minutes of the Philippine Senate, the inclusion of online libel was inserted during the second reading of the bill at the morning during the highly publicized Corona trial which takes place every afternoon. Could it be that the senate at that morning was breezing through the bills just to get down immediately to the Corona business in the afternoon?
And so RA 10175 was passed by the 15th Philippine Congress and signed into law by the Executive Branch.
Our current president and justice secretary are standing by this specific provision, citing its importance and essence. Though I would like to believe they are merely covering up this staggering oversight by trying to look correct and seemingly righteous.
On the world of jurisprudence, RA 10175 has a lot of walls to crash into. On the 1987 constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, Section 4 of Article III (The Bill of Rights) explicitly states that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press…”
Just last July 2012, the United Nations passed a resolution that Internet Access is a Fundamental Human Right, and is specifically linked to the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. Already, the libel laws of other countries are already being declared as obsolete and draconian in nature.
It is quite obvious that the old libel laws worldwide have become outdated during the ushering of the digital and internet age, when basically anybody could now publicize anything without government or institutional control.
I have several thoughts of my own concerning this bill. First and foremost, there are still no implementing rules and regulations for this law, so it would still be a mess in the weeks to come. Second, how in the world can you regulate the world wide web? Actually, nobody could. Not even the Great Internet Wall of China could stop dissenting remarks within its citizenry. Even Wikileaks is still up, by proxy or from host countries with more liberal online laws.
In line with this, could the government actually capture and imprison everyone if all of the 30 million Filipino internet users post libelous remarks online all at the same time? An arrest and trial concerning libel is a tedious process: the government first has to gather the evidence and to firmly prove it so as to garner a warrant to gather computer data and arrest the online user. With the historical data on the wheels of Philippine Justice, this will practically take forever unless your a highly placed political personality or celebrity. It would be advisable that the government first attempt to curb the rampant distribution of pirated discs on the urban streets before they focus on the online posts of the ordinary citizens.
Moreover, the Filipino government’s reach is only on Filipino nationals wherever they may be, as RA 10175 states. So how about the Filipinos who are US citizens and post libelous articles concerning the politicians of their mother country? Lastly, 50 million Pesos is allocated to implement RA 10175, of which I have a gut feeling would be somehow not be 100% utilized for the implementation of the law, and be channeled into some other dubious fund.
There are currently several appeals to the Philippine Supreme Court filed by certain groups to amend certain provisions of the RA 10175. This just goes to show how the people are truly reacting and moving against the bill. Other lawmakers have also proposed to decriminalize the outdated and obsolete 80 year old Philippine libel law. The high court has not issued at Temporary Restraining Order at this time, citing that it first needs to study the issue and the appeals.
Realistically speaking, the Filipino Netizens are a really small minority in a country of approximately 93 million. According to a study conducted by Yahoo-Nielsen, only about 30 million Filipinos are internet users, with ages ranging from 10 to 39. Most of them are not even registered voters. This implies that they have no direct say during the election of the lawmakers.
But why is the government slowly backing down? Why are the politicians, originally hardline, now stepping back? The simple answer to it would be outright influence. The voice of this internet minority has a global reach. It was this same voice that called the world to attention of this online libel provision, caused immense online outrage, provoked massive government website vandalism, and outpouring of the opposite of the said law, which is more seemingly libelous online statements. This cannot be controlled, for better or for worse.
This is the true power of the Filipino Online Minority. Even if most of them cannot vote or are unregistered voters, their true power is to influence the rest of the Filipino people, and to voice out to the rest of the world concerning the happenings in our country. This massive influence is, of course, via the internet sites, forums, and social networks.
On another note, I urge the Filipino Online Minority to be responsible citizens of the online world; that is, to give out constructive criticism within social and ethical bounds, or to voice opinions without cursing foul-mouthed words or without hideous malice. We’re all mature and intelligent people here, folks.
In conclusion, I will sincerely and fully support the Cybercrime Law, if and ONLY IF the Online Libel provisions are removed. ‘Til then, this is what I have to say (see image below)…
You could access and study the full text of RA 10175 at the official Philippine government website here.
Photo credits to Interaksyon.com, Rawjustice.com, Pinoyinfocentral.blogspot.com, Digitalquarters.net, Ebookbotics.com, and Webtablab.com.