Sued for online libel? Bail is around P50K to P100K

Posted at 02/19/2014 3:29 PM | Updated as of 02/19/2014 3:29 PM

Lawyer Harry Roque warns: retweets may be punishable

MANILA - Now that the Cybercrime Prevention Act is in place, its chilling effect is already being felt, lawyers said.

Lawyer Harry Roque, one of the petitioners against the law, said once an information or charge sheet is filed against an author of a libelous post, he or she needs to pay bail of at least P50,000 to P100,000.

He told ANC’s Headstart, “The net effect is that the politician who wants to infringe [on the right to free expression] will take advantage of the law and file [libel compalint]…Since the penalty for online libel is higher – the maximum is 12 years – the bail bond will also be higher.”

In the past, the bail was pegged at a minimum P2,000.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the penalty against online libel is “so vague and so overbroad that the government can really abuse it.”

The decision of the Supreme Court is not even clear on the coverage of online libel, he said.

In a full court meeting Tuesday, the high court said section 4-c-4 of the law is constitutional “with respect to the original author of the post.”

The SC, however, did not allow penalties for those “who simply receive, post, react to the [message].”

Colmenares noted, “What’s reacting? Simply liking a post? Then you’re not liable. But what about retweeting? Are you not already authorizing the post [to be published]…Baka covered pa pala ito.”

Roque noted that libel in the Revised Penal Code also makes the publisher of the post liable.

He said the problem is that proponents of online libel really do not know the real nature of technology. “So even if you narrow down the application of the law to the original content, the issue really is – you’re never sure of the original content.”

Roque said he remembers discussions with the National Bureau of Investigation, which wanted cybercafé owners liable in case a copyrighted material is downloaded by a person in their cybercafé.

Colmenares said that if the politicians really wanted to regulate libelous content – for example, blogs that don’t have editorial restrictions – it can be resolved.

He said the online libel provision was just a knee-jerk reaction.

He likened the reaction to how the police immediately banned caps and sunglasses in malls after the so-called Martilyo Gang robbed a jewelry store.

“What was the connection of ordinary citizens who just wanted to wear caps and sunglasses?” Colmenares said.

Roque believes that the online libel provision was drafted because “congressmen and senators are afraid…coming at a time when we're finding out how bad they’re appropriating money. We know of these [corruption] scandals because of freedom of expression."

He dismissed comments that the Internet is intrusive.

“[Based on a US court ruling, Internet is unlike the radio – where you don’t have a choice but to listen. In the Internet, there’s a positive act of accessing the site,” he said.