Tag Archives: cybercrime law

Just Before The Clock Strikes 12

2 Oct

When somebody asks you, “How do you spend your free time?” how would you respond?  In archaic times, the typical answers would be reading books, catching up with friends and the honing of one’s different talents and skills. But the times have changed. And to quote Dr. Leon C. Megginson, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” But personally, I think it’s both – intelligence and resilience – or maybe that’s just because I’m biased.

Nowadays, I think that I can speak for all of us that during our leisure time, we love to indulge ourselves with the amazing gift that man and technology has bestowed upon us –the internet. Needless to say, we would be on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.

Speaking of this, I was on the internet the other day, mindlessly clicking through things, when I found and read through Republic Act No. 10175. With this law implemented, we could be put in jail by merely posting a status, liking, commenting, sharing, tweeting, re-tweeting and blogging about an individual in social media platforms. Yes, you heard it right.

A year ago, I had a falling out with a friend. To not name names, let’s just call this person A, short for anonymous. So at the height of A’s emotions, A posted a very derogatory status about yours truly: complete with insults and bashing, for all of Facebook to see, like, comment and share. Imagine if this incident happened to a vindictive version of me.

Under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, libel is defined as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to discredit or cause the dishonor or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. Thus, the elements of libel are: (a) imputation of a discreditable act or condition to another; (b) publication of the imputation; (c) identity of the person defamed; and, (d) existence of malice.

Cybercrime law: Section 4. (4) Libel. – The unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.

Cybercrime law: Section 19. Restricting or Blocking Access to Computer Data. – When a computer data is prima facie found to be in violation of the provisions of this Act, the DOJ shall issue an order to restrict or block access to such computer data.

According to the logic of University of the Philippines College of Law Professor Atty. JJ Disini, even though the said incident happened long before the cybercrime law took effect, together with my lawyer, I could argue that since the old libelous post is still live today, A is still publishing it now. Therefore, since A is still publishing it after the law took effect, A is liable for its publication today and can be charged with online libel.

Offended, I would approach and show the one-year-old status to the Secretary of Justice. Under Section 19 of the Cybercrime Law or Republic Act No. 10175, the Secretary would then issue an order blocking access to A’s computer data. Immediately, without any warning whatsoever, A’s right to communicate online would cease to exist and the opportunity to access and see his/her stored-information extinguished.

Additionally, I can obtain a search warrant to intercept A’s communications. A’s hard drive would then be seized and the data and files would be searched and read through by complete strangers. Without even being heard in a court of law, A would be deprived of the use of his/her own personal computer.

A will then be served a subpoena for the crime of libel under the Cybercrime law. A, a teenager, would be facing imprisonment charges of up to 12 years, without the possibility of parole, plus up to P1,000,000 in fines.

To further harass A, I would file another case of libel under the Revised Penal Code on top of the cyber-libel in which A has already been convicted. A would then be charged with two counts of libel or double jeopardy. This means that A will be placed twice in jeopardy for essentially the same infraction. So on top of the 12 year imprisonment sentence from the cyber-libel, another 4 years and two months of imprisonment is added, if A is found guilty on both counts.

That is 16 years of imprisonment, almost all of A’s life. If convicted, A would be a prisoner until his/her early 30s. And after A serves out the sentence, he/she will be permanently branded as a convicted felon. And you know what awaits convicted felons in our society? Nothing, other than endless ridicule, insults and prejudices. All that A has been working for since he/she was a child would all amount to nothing in the end. Destroyed, just because of one mundane status on a social media platform. Fun, right?

What if you were A? What if that old scathing remark you made about somebody years ago was dug up and used as a basis for filing charges against you? What if a momentary outburst could burden you for the rest of your life? What about the pages and statuses that you’ve liked and shared on Facebook? Or the witty tweets in Twitter that you re-tweeted? Or those fake Twitter accounts spoofing prominent people who you follow? With this law in effect, any of these transgressions could rob you of your freedom and dig a deep hole on your pocket. This could happen easily to anybody considering the extensive dependency of the youth in social networking.

Flannery O’Connor once said, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” According to journalist Raisa Robles, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo sued dozens of columnists in 2006 including one that referred to him as the ‘El Esposo Gordo’ or the ’Fat Husband’, which to be honest, is true. Remember, under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, libel is defined as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to discredit or cause the dishonor or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. Meaning, you can still be sued for libel even if what you are implying is true, as long as the person it is directed to take offense.

What if you made witty, sarcastic, ironic or suggestive metaphors about somebody and that person is easily offended? Remember the ‘Thor memes’ that circulated on the internet not a long while ago? What if that was about a real person and that person gets offended? Well, at least if we get jailed, it would be in the company of people with good sense of humor. We are so totally going to have Libel Luncheons everyday in our cell block.

As much as this affects us, this is more detrimental to the writers and investigative reporters. This would further curtail their rights as journalists, striving to inform the public whilst the burgeoning fear of being slapped on with a hefty double jeopardy by the wealthy and prominent. What would the media report then? The weather? Fluff pieces about what this senatorial candidate and that congressional candidate is doing to garner publicity? So if a government official is engaging in corrupt activities, can it still be reported by the media without being charged with two counts of libel? Isn’t this law indirectly abetting corruption, then? Where would we, the masses, get objective news about our country? As constituents in a democratic country, do we not deserve to get the full, untarnished, factual information, rather than suppressing it with this kind of censorship?

“The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.”(Ayn Rand) Out of all our senators, only Senator Teofisto Guingona had the sound judgment and good foresight to oppose this bill. One, out of all the senators.

The libel clause stealthily inserted by none other than Sen. Tito Sotto is tantamount to implementing Martial Law online. This is a blow against freedom of speech and expression on the internet not to mention the privacy of private citizens. This law is unconstitutional and directly violates Article III, Section 4. of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which states that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” John F. Kennedy once said that “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

It’s ironic that as we remember the 40th year since the repression of Martial Law ensued, we are under the same threat again, courtesy not of a dictator, but of self-serving politicians elected by the unknowing masses. What’s even more ironic is that the democracy so carefully restored by Corazon Aquino, the late president and mother of our incumbent president, and the rights of the Filipino masses that the late Sen. Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino, father of our incumbent president, has died fighting for, would be challenged and tarnished under their own son’s regime. Didn’t President Noynoy Aquino promise us the Freedom of Information Bill? Why then did he not follow through with it and instead, approved a law that is directly the opposite? As Clarence Darrow once said, “History repeats itself. That’s one of the things wrong with history.”

 It was Mark Twain who wrote, “Loyalty to country always; loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” But when our rights to speak up and to voice out our opinions are stifled, we each need to take a stand. As U.S. President Barrack Obama once said, “The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech.” “The freedom of speech is worthless without the freedom of offensive speech.” (Noam Chomsky)

Let us all appeal that the Cybercrime Law be rewritten; rewritten to ensure that it would cater to the needs whilst respecting the rights of its citizens. Let us appeal that the libel clause under Republic Act No. 10175 be repealed, as it infringes on the rights to privacy of individuals and takes the very essence out of democracy.

As Malcolm X wrote in By Any Means Necessary, “You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” But as this law looms to silence our voices, let us remember that “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” (Aldous Huxley) “The greatest and most powerful revolutions often start very quietly, hidden in the shadows. Remember that.” (Richelle Mead)