Escudero admits mistake in voting for cybercrime law

Rio Rose Ribaya, Jonathan de Santos
Yahoo! Southeast Asia Newsroom

A controversial provision in anti-cybercrime law slipped under the noses of legislators in the Senate.

Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero himself admits his oversight when he voted for the approval of Cybercrime Prevention Act.

"It was a mistake... I don’t want to give any reason or motive (why some senators inserted that provision)," Escudero explained.

"I will just admit our shortcomings, personally, because I can’t speak for other senators," he added.

Escudero, who filed a separate bill decriminalizing libel, confessed his failure to notice the new law's provision imposing criminal liability on libel.

But he vowed to make up for his mistake, disclosing he has taken steps to file another bill that would amend the recently-signed law.

“We are now studying filing an amendatory law this early to repeal that provision just to be consistent with my bill," Escudero revealed.

He expressed hope it would replace criminal with civil liability on those who will commit libel under the anti-cybercrime law.

“I’ll take out the criminal liability but the civil liability provision will be intact, meaning no jail penalty,” said the senator.

The reelectionist senator disclosed his plan to filing the amendatory bill during recess before lawmakers resume session on October 8.

Escudero explained hope that his bill would initiate steps for Congress to adopt a joint resolution that would postpone implementation of the controversial law.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III, the lone vote against the passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, meanwhile asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to void some

provisions in the law for being contrary to the Constitution.

Guingona also asked the court to issue a Temporary Restraining Order on the implementation of those provisions until the issue has been decided.

He said a provision on libel over the Internet carries a penalty heavier penalty than libel in traditional media, violates the right to equal protection under the law. Under the new law, libel over the Internet is punishable with a minimum of six years in prison while libel under the Revised Penal Code carries a maximum penalty of four years imprisonment.

"A law, to be valid, must apply to all members of the same class. Persons committing libel are similarly situated, whether using a computer system or not," he said. He added that the higher penalty comes at a time when decriminalizing libel has become an international trend.

The Cybercrime Act also leaves an individual open to prosecution for the same crime under the Revised Penal Code, which would violate the right against double jeopardy, Guingona said in his petition.

Guingona also criticized a provision on cybersex, saying the definition of the crime is too broad. The  Cybercrime Law penalizes the "lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity with the aid of a computer system." Guingona argued that without a stricter definition of cybersex, even publishing nude materials classified as art online would be illegal.

The vagueness of the provision will mean that people will not know what acts are punishable by law, he said, adding it will also give law enforcement officers "unbridled discretion" in implementing the law.
The effect, he said, will be prior restraint on the freedom of expression.

Guingona also asks SC to void a provision that gives the Department of Justice "an 'extraordinary power' to issue an order restricting or blocking access to one's computer data based merely on prima facie evidence (of violations of the Cybercrime law)."

"Without affording the affected party with notice and hearing, the government could immediately, and without any warning, restrain a person's right to communicate and opportunity to access his personal data," he said.

Guingona warned that if the government is allowed to implement the "oppressive" provisions of the Cybercrime Law, "any computer user will now live in fear knowing that his critical comments, when published online, might expose him to criminal charges."

He said that although the country needs laws against cybercrimes, "a good law like the Cybercrime Prevention Act cannot be paralyzed by constitutionally-infirm provisions."