Why you won't be jailed for retweets, likes

by Patrick Quintos and Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Feb 18 2014 10:18 PM | Updated as of Feb 19 2014 09:20 AM

MANILA -- The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld several provisions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, including penalizing internet libel, leaving critics unhappy and worried about freedom of speech online.

In an interview on dzMM, Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Secretary Geronimo Sy said internet libel will not be a problem, especially for responsible Internet users.

"Hindi mo ginagamit yung social media kasi mabilis magtago, mabilis magspread. Hindi mo yun ginagamit para makasira ng kapwa," said Sy, the chief proponent of the Anti-Cybercrime Act and current head of the DOJ's anti-cybercrime office.

He said only the original author of a libelous remark or article online can be penalized.

"Ang basehan diyan, ang basic analysis lang, the Supereme Court is also a practical court eh. Kasi the way it is, kung nag-like ka, 100, kung ni-retweet mo, 1000—it is statistically impossible to charge them all. So ang direction ng Korte Suprema, 'yung original author lang kung saan nagbunga at nagsanhi ang libel o paninira 'yun lang 'yung magiging responasble. Di na kasama 'yung mga nag-like o nag-share," he said.

Truth may not be a defense

Sy said the basic definition of online libel is the same as the definition of libel in the Revised Penal Code, which has been used since 1930s.

"Ang libel, di naman siya bagong batas. Ang online libel, bagong form siya. Pero sa substance ng batas, 'yung libel laws naman natin, since 1932 nandiyan na 'yan. Ang basic sa libel provision, 'yung tinatawag na defamatory. Ano 'yung defamatory sa Filipino? 'Yung mapanira. 'Yung whether or not tama o totoo 'yung sinasabi… 'yun 'yung tinatawag na malice—meron kang masamang intensyion kaya ginagawa mo 'yung paninira sa isang tao," he explained.

He said any article or post that is defamatory, or malicious, can be considered libelous.

Under Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code, even truth may not be a defense against libel.

"Whether or not tama or mali (ang sinabi), basta mapanira, pwedeng makasuhan ng libel," Sy said.

"Every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown," Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code states.

However, the Supreme Court has held in various decisions that government officials should not be onion-skinned against criticisms, with public figures required to prove actual malice against those they accuse of libel.

A September 30, 2005 ruling of the Supreme Court's 2nd Division, in Guingguing vs the Court of Appeals, said the law on libel "allows for such leeway, accepting as a defense 'good intention and justifiable motive.' The exercise of free expression, and its concordant assurance of commentary on public affairs and public figures, certainly qualify as 'justifiable motive,' if not 'good intention.'"

Cuss words

Sy, meanwhile, said cuss words or other derogatory remarks may or may not be libelous, depending on the context of the comment or article.

An article or remark may not contain any curse words, but may still be defamatory.

"Kapag magkaibigan, sinabihan na 'Ang bobo mo kasi', hindi yan libel."

In Reyes vs. People of the Philippines [137 Phil. 112, 120 (1969)], the Supreme Court ruled that the expression "p****a mo" is "common utterance not to slander but express anger or displeasure."

Sy, also said that satirical articles, if witten well, are not libelous. He believes that satire is "the highest form of flattery."

Blind items

"Blind items," on the other hand, may be considered libelous if if these are defamatory, and only if the person being described is easily identifiable.

If a person decides to post a remark or a comment that is meant as a public service announcement -- as long as it can be proven true -- will not be considered libelous, Sy said.

"Halimbawa, binanggit iyung isang kumpanya o fast food, may langaw o may dumi. Kung dapat malaman ng publiko, hindi yung libelous," he said.

Sy said the government will use the Cybercrime Prevention Act to focus on more serious crimes like child pornography, online fraud, human trafficking and other.

"Sana maging mas responsable tayo, huwag natin sayangin ang resources ng government (na) konting away lang, libel na kaagad," he said.

Public consultation

He said that while concerned groups can still file a motion against the Supreme Court ruling, the DOJ is already working hard on the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the law.

"In terms of IRR, 'yung Department of Justice has been working hard on this for some time already. Nung kina-craft pa 'yung first version ng Cybercrime Bill. So 'yung IRR, ready na siya to be revised based sa Supreme Court ruling. At pagkatapos magkakaroon ng public consultation, ipo-post ito online for the netizens to comment," he said.

Instead of fearing the law on online libel, Sy said Filipinos should learn how to be responsible in using the Internet.

"Let's use it for productivity, to build social relationships. Hindi yung para makasira. Sana mas malalim na maturity sa paggamit ng technology," he said.