Outrage over Philippine cybercrime law

A new cybercrime law in the Philippines that could see people sentenced to 12 years in jail for posting defamatory comments on Facebook or Twitter is generating outrage among netizens and rights groups.

The stated aim of the cybercrime law is to fight online pornography, hacking, identity theft and spamming in the conservative Catholic nation amid police complaints they lack the legal tools to stamp out Internet crime.

However it also includes a blanket provision that puts the country's criminal libel law into force in cyberspace, except that the penalties for Internet defamation are much tougher compared with old media.

It also allows authorities to collect data from personal user accounts on social media and listen in on voice/video applications, such as Skype, without a warrant.

Teenagers unwarily retweeting or re-posting libellous material on social media could bear the full force of the law, according to Noemi Dado, a prominent Manila blogger who edits a citizen media site called Blog Watch.

"Not everyone is an expert on what constitutes libel. Imagine a mother like me, or teenagers and kids who love to rant. It really hits our freedoms," Dado told AFP.

Compounding the concerns, those teenagers or anyone else who posts a libellous comment faces a maximum prison term of 12 years and a fine of one million pesos ($24,000).

Meanwhile, newspaper editors and other trained professionals in traditional media face prison terms of just four years and fines of 6,000 pesos.

While harsh criminal libel legislation remains in force in other parts of Asia, Dado said the Philippine law sent the wrong signal in a country that overthrew the military-backed Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship just 26 years ago.

Dado, a lawyer's wife known in the local online community as the "momblogger", is among a group of bloggers and other critics of the libel element of the cybercrime law campaigning for it to be repealed.

Brad Adams, Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the law was having a chilling effect in the Philippines, which has one of the world's highest per capita rates of Facebook and Twitter users.

"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.

About a third of the Philippines' nearly 100 million people use the Internet, with 96 percent them on Facebook, according to industry figures.

Five petitions claiming the law is unconstitutional have been filed with the Supreme Court.

Senator Teofisto Guingona, the lone opponent when the bill was voted on in the Senate, has filed one of the petitions to the Supreme Court.

"Without a clear definition of the crime of libel and the persons liable, virtually any person can now be charged with a crime -- even if you just re-tweet or comment on an online update or blog post," Guingona told the court.

"The questioned provisions... throw us back to the Dark Ages."

The five petitions all say the law infringes on freedom of expression, due process, equal protection and privacy of communication.

University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque, who filed one of the petitions, said the Philippines was one of a shrinking number of countries where defamation remained a crime punishable by prison.

Part of the penal code that was drawn up 82 years ago, it goes against the trend in many advanced democracies such as the United States and Britain where defamation is now punished with fines rather than imprisonment, Roque said.

Amid the public backlash, some of the senators who voted for the cybercime law have started to disassociate themselves from it, even claiming they did not read the provision on libel.

However presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda has defended the cybercrime law.

"The Cybercrime Act sought to attach responsibilities in cyberspace.... freedom of expression is always recognised but freedom of expression is not absolute," he told reporters on Thursday.

Nevertheless, Lacierda said the law could still be refined.

He called for critics to submit their concerns to a government panel that will issue by the end of the year specific definitions of the law, such as who may be prosecuted.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Osmeña wants electricity exempted from VAT
    Osmeña wants electricity exempted from VAT

    Sen. Sergio Osmeña III wants electricity to be exempted from value added tax under a proposed measure that will amend the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997 and the Reformed VAT Law. He said the move aims to ease the burden of the public in paying high electricity rates in the country. “VAT on electricity is another burden on the already over-taxed shoulders of our people, especially those whose incomes are barely enough to cover their basic needs. Osmeña, chairman of the Senate …

  • No lotto draws starting tomorrow until Easter Sunday
    No lotto draws starting tomorrow until Easter Sunday

    No lotto tickets will be sold and no lotto draws made starting tomorrow, Maundy Thursday, up to Easter Sunday in observance of Holy Week. In a statement, Jose Ferdinand Rojas II, acting Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) chairman and general manager, said the selling of lotto tickets and lotto draws will resume on April 6,  Monday. “We thank all Lotto players for your trust and confidence in the PCSO games, and we count on your continued support of our efforts to raise funds for …

  • Quake rocks C. Visayas
    Quake rocks C. Visayas

    A magnitude-3.2 earthquake rocked parts of Central Visayas yesterday. State seismologists said the quake was an aftershock of a powerful tremor that hit the region in 2013. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said the quake occurred at 7:54 a.m. Its epicenter was located 10 kilometers  southeast of Buenavista, Bohol. Phivolcs director Renato Solidum said the quake was an aftershock of the magnitude-7.2 earthquake that hit Bohol on Oct. 15, 2013. …

  • Super howler nears Phl
    Super howler nears Phl

    A typhoon that has devastated islands in the Pacific is forecast to become a category 5 monster howler as it barrels toward the Philippines this week. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said Maysak will be named Chedeng when it enters the Philippine area of responsibility tonight or tomorrow morning. In an interview, PAGASA weather forecaster Gener Quitlong said the forecast track of Maysak may still change depending on the movement of …

  • Philips Gold finally shines

    Philips Gold made 11 service aces on its way to beating Mane ‘N Tail, 25-19, 27-25, 25-16, for its first victory in the Philippine Super Liga (PSL) All-Filipino Coinference Monday night at The Arena in San Juan.Former College of St. Benilde standout Rossan Fajardo had six aces as part of her 10-point output as the Lady Slammers finally barged into the win column after losing their first two matches.Ex-National University star Myla Pablo led Philips Gold with 14 points highlighted by 12 kills, …

  • Turkish Airlines starts direct Manila-Istanbul flights 3 times a week

    Turkish Airlines, Turkey’s flag carrier, launched on March 30 its thrice weekly direct, non-stop flights between Istanbul and Manila at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 and plans to operate a daily service between the two cities, eventually, announced Chief Marketing Officer Ahmet Olmustur. Last November 2014, the Philippines and Turkey signed an expanded air services agreement granting Turkish carriers three frequencies per week to Manila and Clark. In accordance with …

  • Azkals bow to Bahrain

    The Philippine Azkals fell short in their bid to salvage a draw and fell 2-1 to Bahrain Monday night in an international friendly match at the Bahrain National Stadium in Manama. Faouzi Mubarak struck the opening goal for the home side in the 29th minute before Abdulla Yaser doubled the lead two minutes later with a booming shot from 25 yards out. Fil-German midfielder Manny Ott gave the Azkals a ray of hope when he scored from just outside the box in the 61st. National team Coach Thomas …

  • Alcalas dominate rivals

    In a brilliant show of power and speed, Mark Alcala downed fierce rival and Philippine team member Ross Leonard Pedroza, 21-16, 23-21, to win the men’s singles open title. Alcala lost her No. 1 ranking after focusing on her studies at the University of the Philippines, but she’s willing to sacrifice once again in order to represent the country in future international tournaments. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options