MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously issued a 120-day temporary restraining order (TRO) on the entire Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 or Republic Act 10175.
The halt order is effective immediately. Based on a formula, the 120 days may end February 6, 2013.
The SC Public Information Office confirmed the news around 5:20 p.m. today.
In an order dated Oct. 9, 2012, the high court will deliberate on the issues via oral arguments on January 15, 2013.
Consolidating all 15 petitions that questioned the law, the high court also ordered the respondents, led by government offices and their chiefs, to file a comment within ten days upon receipt of the notice. The government offices are represented by the Office of the Solicitor General.
This is one of the rare occasions that SC issued a halt order with a shelf life. Usually, TRO issuances are effective until a final decision.
The TRO stopped law enforcement agencies such as the Department of Justice, the National Bureau of Investigation and even the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) from implementing the entire law, not just the controversial provisions, such as the libel clause.
Meantime, Malacañang said it respects the reported issuance of a TRO by the Supreme Court on the anti-cybercrime law, adding that it would like to see a copy of the TRO to see which provisions are covered by the restraining order.
“The administration will always respect the legal processes that are issued by the court. We would like to take a look at the specifics of the TRO,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Several lawmakers and various groups hailed the SC's issuance of a TRO.
In a statement, Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona said the 120-day TRO is “the first victory of the people and of freedom of expression.”
“For a court to issue a TRO unanimously is a strong message of its belief that the dangers and fears of the people are real and must be addressed. With this TRO, the tyrannical powers granted by the law are effectively clipped,” said Guingona, the only senator who voted against the controversial law.
House Deputy Speaker and Quezon City 4th District Rep. Erin Tañada, and Sen. Pia Cayetano, who were among those who have filed petitions questioning several provisions of the law, also welcomed the SC’s issuance of a TRO.
Tañada said the TRO gives justices more time to carefully review the Cybercrime Law, particularly the issues pertaining to cyber libel.
Cayetano said the SC order “opens a window of opportunity for Congress to revisit the law and work for the amendment and/or repeal of its questionable provisions.”
'A big win'
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) and the Human Rights Watch also welcomed the SC TRO.
NUJP Secretary-General Rowena Paraan said the stay order was “the very least that the High Court can do confronted with a blatantly unconstitutional and repressive law.”
“We congratulate the members of media, bloggers, netizens, human rights groups, people's organizations, progressive legislators and the many others who have defiantly stood up, spoke and fought against this latest assault on our hard-won freedoms,” she added.
Human rights lawyer Harry Roque of Centerlaw said the TRO was a “big win” for the people.
“The TRO reaffirmed the view submitted by the petitioners that the law is unconstitutional for being violative of the rights to freedom of expression, and the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution,” he said.
Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams also commended the SC for issuing the TRO, but said “the court should now go further by striking down this seriously flawed law.”
Adams said, “Congress, if it still wants to have a law governing online activity, should ensure that such a law will not infringe on civil liberties, human rights, the Constitution and the Philippines's obligations under international law. All provisions in Philippine law that allow for imprisonment for peaceful expression should be repealed.”
‘Battle is not yet over’
“The battle to defend our basic rights is far from over. The 120-day TRO gives a brief respite but the protests must continue,” NUJP said.
The group called on the SC to declare the law null and unconstitutional in its final decision, and the legislators to decriminalize libel.
The NUJP, Guingona and Roque also reminded the public to remain vigilant.
Guingona said, “Now, we must escalate our vigilance, keep the fire burning, and continue the fight for our fundamental rights. The fight of the people, on the streets and online, must continue.”
Roque likewise said, “We ask the citizenry to remain vigilant as the challenge today is to make the TRO permanent by convincing the Court to declare the Cybercrime law unconstitutional. We hope the DOJ and the authors of the law will take heed and forthwith repeal the law even before the Court issues a final verdict on the merits.”
Cayetano also urged the public, most especially netizens and bloggers, to monitor and participate in the public hearings. -- with a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News