"From our sadness, we awakened to a shaft of light cutting through the darkness..."
These words are contained in President Benigno Aquino III's "A Social Contract with the Filipino People" that details the Aquino administration's platform of government.
These words were used in the context of a nation awakening from the pain brought about by the death of Mr. Aquino's mother, democracy icon and former President Corazon Aquino, who passed on in Aug. 2009.
Ironically, journalists opposing a new law, Republic Act (RA) No. 10175, also known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, signed by Mr. Aquino just last Sept. 12, are using these very words to serve as the "backdrop against which the looming darkness is to be dispelled."
In a 27-page petition for certiorari, prohibition and injunction filed with the Supreme Court (SC), multi-media journalists, led by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Philippine Press Institute (PPI), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), assailed 13 provisions of RA No. 10175 and urged the high court to strike down the entire law or, in the alternative, declare as null and void the questioned provisions.
"Petitioners submit that with these provisions of the law being declared unconstitutional, the entire law is rendered without meaning and not capable of implementation. For that reason, the entire law must be struck down," the petition read.
Petitioners assailed the constitutionality of the following:
-- Sec. 4(c)(4), which criminalizes libel on cyberspace;
-- Sec. 5(a), which lists "aiding or abetting in the Commission of Cybercrime" as an additional offense under the law;
-- Sec. 6, which raises by one degree higher the penalties provided for by the Revised Penal Code for all crimes committed through and with the use of information and communications;
-- Sec. 7, which provides that apart from prosecution under the law, any person charged for the alleged offense covered will not be spared from violations of the Revised Penal Code and other special laws;
-- Sec. 12, which authorizes law enforcement authorities to collect or record, by technical or electronic means, traffic data in real-time; -
-- Sec. 14, which authorizes law enforcement authorities, armed with a court warrant, to require "any person or service provider to disclose or submit subscriber's information, traffic data or relevant data in his/its possession or control within 72 hours from receipt of the order in relation to a valid complaint officially docketed and assigned for investigation;"
-- Sec. 15, which authorizes law enforcement authorities to search, seize and examine computer data;
-- Sec. 19, which authorizes the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) to block access to computer data when such data "is prima facie found to be in violation of the provisions of this Act;"
-- Sec. 20, which states that those who fail to comply with provisions of the law's Chapter IV (Enforcement and Implementation), specifically orders from law enforcement agencies, shall face imprisonment of prision correctional (6 months and 1 day to 6 years) in its maximum period or a fine of P100,000 or both, for each noncompliance;
-- Sec. 24, which creates, beginning effectivity of the law on Oct. 3, an inter-agency body under the Office of the President (OP) to be known as the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC) for "policy coordination" and "formulation and enforcement of the national cybersecurity plan;"
-- Sec. 26(a), which details the powers and functions of the CICC;
-- Sec. 28, which provides for the crafting of the law's Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) by the Dept. of Science and Technology (DOST), DOJ, and the Dept. of Interior and Local Govt. (DILG); and
-- Sec. 29, pertaining to the separability clause which shields provisions of the law not rendered invalid from any declaration of invalidity by a competent court.
Petitioners argued that these provisions violate the freedom of expression (Sections 4(c) 4, 5(a),6 and 7); the constitutional guarantee of protection against double jeopardy (Sec. 7); right to due process and equal protection (Sections 6, 7 and 19); separation of powers between the Executive and Judicial branches (Sections 14, 15, 19, 24 and 26(a)); and the right to privacy of communication and correspondences (Sec. 12).
They also claimed that the law is rendered a Bill of Attainder (a legislative act that imposes punishment without a trial) by criminalizing the use of 'information and communications technology' by virtue of Sections 4(c)(4), 5(a), and 6, and by making non-compliance to orders by law enforcement authorities punishable criminally.
Petitioners stressed that the law "unduly restricts the rights and freedoms of netizens and impacts adversely on an entire generation's way of living, studying, understanding and relating."
"Petitioners ask this Court to rule on Republic Act No. 10175, a law that establishes a regime of 'cyber authoritarianism' and undermines all the fundamental guarantees of freedoms and liberties that many have given their lives and many still give their lives work to vindicate, restore and defend," the petition read.
The petition sought the immediate issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent the implementation of the law and prevent the Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management from releasing some P50 million to fund its implementation.
Petitioners also urged the high court to call for oral arguments on the case.