Nullify Cybercrime Act, SC asked

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 15 2013 06:25 PM | Updated as of Jan 16 2013 08:39 AM

MANILA - The petitioners against the Cybercrime Prevention Act stood pat on their claim that the controversial law should be stricken down for violating the fundamental freedoms of speech, privacy, due process of law, and equal protection of laws.

Speaking before the magistrates of the Supreme Court (SC) during oral arguments on their petitions, the petitioners, represented by 5 of their lawyers, assailed the provisions on criminalizing libel on the internet,
increasing the penalties under Sec. 6 a degree higher for crimes covered by the Revised Penal Code once committed with the use of information and communications technologies (ICT), prosecution of the same offense under both the assailed law and the Revised Penal Code or any special laws, restriction and blocking of access by the Dept. of Justice (DOJ), real time collection of traffic data, and the aiding and abetting provisions.

In his opening statement, petitioner Sen. Teofisto Guingona III described the legislation as "a law with fangs that instills fear in people's hearts... a cyber Dracula."

Atty. Harry Roque, tasked to discuss cyber libel, argued that the provision criminalizing the said offense in cyberspace is "broad and vague" and therefore prone to abuse.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares assailed the law for raising by a degree higher the penalties for crimes committed under the Revised Penal Code with the use of ICT.

He pointed out that the law should be nullified for allowing double jeopardy to set in by allowing persons found violating the law to still be prosecuted under the Revised Penal Code and special laws.

Atty. Rodel Cruz argued against the restriction and blocking powers of the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) over sites found with prima facie evidence of possibly committing a crime prescribed under the law.

He said this provision, Sec. 19, is tantamount to an "impermissible prior restraint" on the freedom of expression. He described this "unbridled power" of the DOJ as a "legislated general warrant prone to discriminatory enforcement by agents of the political (executive) branch."

Atty. Jesus Disini, Jr. assailed the power of government, as granted by the law, to collect real time traffic data without any warrant from a court of law.

He said this violates one's right to privacy, which he described as a "vital ingredient to liberty" and without which "we are not free." He further stressed that what may begin as collection of traffic data may end as an "investigation on content." 

Atty. Julius Matibag discussed how the aiding or abetting a cybercrime offense provision is open to violations of basic rights.

The lawyers were interpellated by the justices after each presentation of arguments.

Other assailed provisions not tackled in the oral arguments will be discussed by petitioners in their memorandum. 

Government, through the Office of the Solicitor General, will defend the Cybercrime Prevention Act on Jan. 22.