MANILA, Philippines - People should move beyond the online libel issue on the controversial Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, a Department of Justice (DOJ) official said Wednesday.
Justice Assistant Secretary and Cybercrime Office Head Geronimo Sy admitted on “ANC Presents: Cybercrime” that the law is not perfect but hopes that it would not be thrown away just because of the provision on online libel.
But journalist and lawyer Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin said the problem indeed lies on the said provision as well as the “take-down” power or the restriction of access to computer data that will be given to the DOJ.
Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Teddy Casiño said the provision on online libel did not go through the House and was just “inserted” in the Senate.
Blogger Tonyo Cruz, one of the Supreme Court petitioners questioning several provisions of the law, said he does not owe his rights to anybody.
“We must be able to exercise our rights regardless of who stays in the government. Bloggers know about responsibilities. This law is not about responsibilities. It contains so many unconstitutional provisions, prevents our very existence and gives a chilling effect on us to give our own ideas,” he said.
Cruz said Congress now has 120 days to recognize the mistakes they have committed and correct them.
Quality of legislation
Veteran journalist Ellen Tordesillas, co-founder of VERA Files, likewise spoke out against the online libel provision of the law, noting that media has to be free in exercising its duties of informing the public.
Tordesillas said that while it is “comforting” to know that online libel was not included in the House version of the law, it was added in the final version of the bill.
She said the actual problem is the "quality of legislation" in the Philippines.
Atty. Chris Lao, a former victim of cyber-bullying, argued that online libel is not a problem and that the law just answers questions on fairness and justice.
He said the libel clause still allows people to speak their mind but at the same time, recognize their responsibilities.
“Nobody has any right to debase any other human being,” Lao said.
“We recognize that evil must not exist. Libel is classified as inherently evil. If we recognize it as evil, do we not incarcerate it? Nobody is scared of civil suits.”
But Locsin said if Lao indeed felt insulted, he should have just gone to the courts.
“Open Twitter, read the post. If it’s insulting you, that’s libel. File it, wait for the judge to say it’s libel and Twitter is a publication,” said Locsin.
He also asked Lao, “Why didn’t you just block them? Why did you listen to all the insults?”
No anti-cyberbullying clause
Cruz also reacted to Lao’s statements by reiterating that cyberbullying is actually not included in the cybercrime law.
“This law wouldn’t address that,” he said.
Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino said including cyber-defamation in the law would only result in non-core cases swamping the police.
“Instead of hacking, baka puro Twitter insults ang kasong (nasa) NBI (National Bureau of Investigation),” he said.
But Taguig 2nd District Rep. Freddie Tinga defended online libel, saying anything criminal in the real world must be criminal in the virtual world.
Locsin countered, “When you see rape online, it is not virtual rape. It's pornography.”
Raymond Nuñez, a “white hat hacker” or a security engineer, said they use the same tools as hackers but the difference is they have permission.
They are security professionals who do penetration testing to make sure websites are secured.
He said the law is problematic in terms of who are actually punishable.
As one who teaches a subject on computer security in school, he said he needs to teach his students how to hack, noting that they have to learn how to attack first before they can defend an attack.
Sy answered him by saying it is presupposed that there is academic freedom and it is made in good faith.
He said teaching hacking is not punishable, especially in the context of a school.
Data surveillance sans warrant
Technology law expert Atty JJ Disini, who is also one of the petitioners versus the cybercrime law, said the law also allows surveillance without a warrant.
“In the original DOJ version, (there was a need for) a court warrant. But in the final version, that was removed,” he said.
But Sy argued that retrieving content data will always require a warrant.
Computer forensic expert Drexx Lagui also defended the cybercrime law by saying it is important to have a law that would focus on information security and go after people who violate other people’s privacy.
Lagui said that without the cybercrime law, perpetrators can only be charged with estafa when they get caught. “We do need this law,” he added.
Special Investigator Joey Narciso of the NBI Computer Crime Division likewise said the problem is in getting the identities of cyber-criminals and gathering evidence against them, especially when they are using prepaid accounts.
But Locsin again countered, “And because you can’t do it, you want this law? How does this give you the competence to do that?”
Locsin ended by saying, “I keep hearing ‘with freedom comes responsibility.’ I don’t think people have watched Spider Man. It’s with great power comes great responsibility. With freedom comes the obligation to defend it against any attempt to abridge it in any fashion whatsoever.”