PNoy backs online libel provision

By Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 19 2014 04:15 PM | Updated as of Feb 20 2014 07:24 AM

MANILA (UPDATE) - President Aquino on Wednesday said the provision in the anti-cybercrime law prohibiting online libel does not restrict freedom of expression.

“Pipigilin ba ang freedom of expression? Hindi naman yata ‘yun ang layunin,” Aquino told reporters.

He said that rights have their limits and that there is nothing to fear if the right is exercised responsibly.

“Kayo bilang mga responsableng mamamahayag, may mga karapatan kayo, meron din namang hangganan ang karapatan ng lahat ‘di ba? Ang turo sa atin noong tayo ay nag-aaral, your rights end where they impinge on the rights of others,” he said.

“Kung may mali sa sinabi sa TV, sinabi sa radio, inulat sa pahayagan, sa mga magazine, ‘pag lumipat ka ng format, dapat exempted? Siguro kayo hindi papayag, unequal protection naman ‘di ba ang mava-violate nun. Ulitin ko lang, kung tama naman ang sinasabi mo, bakit ka kakabahan doon sa libel na isyu.”

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that a cybercrime law penalizing online libel is constitutional, disappointing critics who argue it could curb Internet freedom in one of Asia's most freewheeling democracies.

The Cybercrime Protection Law was passed in 2012 to stamp out online scourges such as fraud, identity theft, spamming and child pornography, but its implementation was suspended after coming under challenge from various groups.

The Supreme Court said however that one of its most controversial provisions, the section which penalizes cyber libel, "is not unconstitutional", spokesman Theodore Te said.

Only the sender of the material faced prosecution and not the recipient, Te added.

The court also upheld provisions penalizing cyber-squatting, computer fraud, identity theft and gaining illegal access through a computer, he said.

Opponents of the law could still file a motion for reconsideration, Te added.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the Supreme Court decision was "timely" as the government needed it to deal with the growing number of cybercrime cases.

"In the intervening period when the (law was suspended), cybercrime in its many forms was continuing and even escalating," she said.

"A clear legal framework is necessary to protect citizens and balance the state's duties."

But Neri Colmenares, a congressman who was among those who challenged the law, said they may appeal.

"The government should not be the prosecutor of stained reputations," Colmenares said, branding it a "draconian law".

"No one should go to prison just for expressing oneself, specially on the Internet, where people express their frustration with government," he said.

President Benigno Aquino signed the law in 2012 but opponents quickly said it gave the government wide powers to curb Internet freedom due to provisions that impose heavy prison terms for online libel.

The original law also gave the state power to shut down websites and monitor online activities, in a country where major protests have been organised through Facebook and Twitter.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday "partially granted the relief" sought by the law's opponents, when it ruled as unlawful a provision giving the Justice Department powers to shut down websites or record Internet traffic data in real time. With Agence France-Presse