'Internet libel will gag public'

Posted at 09/20/12 9:42 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Senator Teofisto Guingona III warned on Thursday that some parts of the new anti-cybercrime law will silence the public and threaten the Constitutional right to freedom of expression.

Guingona, in explaining his vote in opposing the proposed legislation while it was still being discussed in the Senate, said he questions Republic Act No. 10175 on constitutional grounds.

"I was concerned about prior restraint," he said.

"Some parts of the bill clearly attempt to legislate morality and penalize people if they breach our standards. I feel that as legislators, we have no right to dictate what people should or should not see. Unjustifiable prior restraint is an archaic policy that should not be in our statute books," he added.

Guingona also said the law's Section 4-C(4) has problematic provisions.

"Transplanting the Revised Penal Code definition of libel without specifying who is liable exposes the owner of online newspapers, blogs, sites to liability. This is problematic because in the case of online communities, people are encouraged to actually participate (make comments, re-tweet, repost on Facebook)," he explained.

"With this law, editors and owners of these sites will be forced to lock down their websites and prevent people from commenting. I believe that editors can regulate the works of their writers but if you gag the general public, surely the Constitutional right to freedom of expression is threatened," he said.

"This Act is a prior restraint on the principle of the freedom of expression and freedom of speech. This law sets us back. We cannot legislate morality. The Spanish inquisition has long been disbanded. I do not know why we are reviving it today," he added.

He was the the lone senator who opposed the bill.

The senators who approved the anti-cybercrime law proposal on third and final reading were Tito Sotto, Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Gregorio Honasan II, Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, Pia Cayetano, Bong Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Ejercito-Estrada, Panfilo Lacson, Lito Lapid, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Ralph Recto, and Manny Villar.

Cayetano, in explaining her vote to approve the law, said her focus was on the bill's provision against child pornography.

"Libel wasn't a 'hot' topic in January 2012 when amendment was made. No one from the Senate, media picked it up and saw it as a problem then," she said on social networking site Twitter Thursday.

The impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona dominated the Senate and media's concerns in the month that the anti-cybercrime bill was approved.

"My point is, [it's] impossible to pick out every issue," she told ABS-CBNNews.com, when asked why she waited for media to raise the problems regarding the libel provision of the new law.

Cayetano said she is open to discussing amendments to contentious provisions of the law with its sponsor, Senator Angara.

"As a blogger myself, I understand the concern of netizens. We don't want to hamper intelligent public discourse online," she said,

Senate records show that Sotto added the libel amendment on January 24, 2012 to the proposed legislation.

He specifically targetted users of social media websites.

"Senator Sotto stated that there are numerous abuses in technology, particularly the video and photo uploading and unnecessary write-ups and comments in social networking systems," the Senate journal for the day said.

Sotto then moved that the Senate end its period of individual amendments.

The proposed anti-cybercrime legislation was approved on second reading a few minutes later, with no objection.

The new anti-cybercrime law is set to be implemented next month, and its implementing rules and regulations will be released 90 days from September 12 when Aquino signed the bill into law.