Internet libel – a shocking gift to Filipinos on the eve of the 1986 Edsa People Power celebration

By Raïssa Robles

Posted at Feb 18 2014 10:10 PM | Updated as of Feb 19 2014 06:11 AM

Now expect waves of sleazy libel suits filed by politicians against Filipino Internet users.

Not because politicians think they can win but simply to suppress criticism and keep potential critics terrified — in short, create a chilling effect in cyberspace. And also because, being politicians, they can afford it. In fact they might even use OUR money.

The Supreme Court today upheld much of the Cybercrime Law including Internet libel, even as lawmakers were issuing assurances that they intend to decriminalize libel – by removing the jail sentences and retaining the fines.

Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te explained that Internet libel could only be filed against “the original author of the post.” It cannot be filed against those “who simply receive, post, react to the [message].”

This seems to mean that retweeting a libelous statement or reposting it on Facebook is not libel.

In other words,

“The Court also ruled on the constitutionality of online libel when it further declared that Section 4(c)(4) which penalizes online libel is not unconstitutional with respect to the original author of the post but unconstitutional only where it penalizes those who simply receive the post or react to it,” Atty. Te said.

And the irony? The decision comes on the the eve of the 28th anniversary of People Power, when Filipinos decided to break the shackles of a dictatorship and chase a despot from office.

The Supreme Court has taken a step towards bringing back that era of repression.

And irony of ironies, the son of the icon of democracy (President Benigno Aquino III) and the widower of one of the major champions of Edsa (House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte) played midwives to the efforts.

To be sure, the Supreme Court tried to curb the effects of libel by stating that only the one who posted the piece can be sued. But given the kind of politicians we have, this won’t be enough to protect legitimate dissent.

We all know how libel suits work in real life. The Supreme Court did not put sufficient safeguards.

For the rest of this blog entry, click here: Internet libel