Senators move to change cybercrime law

Sen TG Guingona goes to the Supreme Court while Sen Francis Escudero plans to file a law amending the Cybercrime Prevention Act

'IT SLIPPED.' Senator Francis Escudero admits he did not notice the provision criminalizing libel in the Cybercrime Bill when the Senate voted on the measure. Photo by Ayee Macaraig

MANILA, Philippines – Two senators on Thursday, September 27, moved a step closer to changing the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III filed a petition before the Supreme Court that seeks to void questionable provisions in the law that he said infringe on the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.
Guingona opposed the passage of the bill in the Senate but was outvoted. He said the recently-passed law contains confusing and vague provisions that suppress the citizens’ right to freedom of speech and expression. (Read details of his opposition to the law here.)

On the other hand, Sen Francis Escudero, acknowledging that he himself did not notice the online libel provision in the Act, said he will file a law amending it.

During the Kapihan sa Senado press forum on Thursday, Escudero said he wants to remove the provision imposing criminal liability in online libel and instead recommend civil liability. He said this means there will be no penalty of imprisonment for those found guilty of online libel.

Escudero is a lawyer and the chairperson of the Senate Justice Committee.

“Nakalusot sa amin iyon. Hindi ko nakita iyon nung kami ay bumoto at pumirma sa committee report pero maliwanag ang posisyon ko, kaugnay sa bagay na iyan. Isa ako sa principal author o hindi man unang nag-file para idecriminalize ang libel sa ating statute books,” Escudero said on Thursday, September 27. (We did not notice that provision when the bill was passed. I did not see that when we voted on the committee report but my stand is clear about this. I am one of the principal authors or those who first filed a bill decriminalizing libel.)

Escudero said he plans to fill the amendatory bill before session resumes on October 8.

“At least there is an avenue before the Supreme Court through Senator Guingona. We also have an avenue through the legislative mill,” said Escudero.

Escudero said his opposition to the law is consistent with his stand against criminalizing libel. He said he filed his bill to decriminalize libel as early as 2007.

Asked why he and other senators failed to spot the provision before voting in favor of the bill, Escudero said he refuses to speculate.

“Ayoko magbigay ng anumang dahilan o motibo aaminin ko na lang siguro ang aming pagkukulang, personally, nakalusot sa amin iyon.” (I don’t want to give any reason or motive but I admit our lapse, personally, I did not see that.)

Media groups and human rights lawyers have questioned the provision on online libel, saying it violates freedom of expression and undermines efforts to decriminalize libel in the Philippines. This week, various petitions were filed before the Supreme Court against the law. 

‘Implementing rules not enough’

Escudero said it is not enough to change the law through the implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

“There are some things that you can question before the court and not just through IRR or executive fiat. There are things that Congress must pass into law, that has to be in the law.”

Escudero said the law can be implemented unless Congress passes a Joint Congressional Resolution that to delay the implementation. “[The resolution] has the force and effect of law.”

Escudero clarified that he is not against holding Internet users accountable but there are many questionable provisions in the law, especially regarding implementation.

“Sa Internet, they have the benefit of anonymity. Iyon ang mahirap sa cybecrime na libel. Ni hindi mo alam kung sino ang kakasuhan mo. Hindi nakonsidera ng libel na lumang batas iyan, paano ang nag-repost, paano ang nag-retweet? Kung may sinulat si Mr X na isang libelous na bagay at ni-retweet mo, pati ba ikaw ay damay na rin?” 

(On the Internet, they have the benefit of anonymity. That’s what’s difficult with cybercrime libel. You don’t even know who you are going to sue. They did not consider that libel, that’s an old law. How about those who repost, those who retweet? If Mr X wrote something libelous and you retweeted it, are you also liable?)

Escudero also said a gray area is when an Internet user forwards a private e-mail to a friend or sends a direct message. The senator maintains a Twitter account with the handle @SayChiz. 

“There are still many questions that must be clarified and it’s not that easy or simple,” Escudero said.

He said even law enforcement agencies will have a hard time.

“How will you go after those people? Does the National Bureau of Investigation have the ability to go after those behind cybercrime?”

Asked why Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III reportedly inserted the provision on online libel, Escudero said, “’Di ko rin alam at wala akong personal knowledge kung siya nga ang naglagay doon.” (I also don’t know and I don’t have any personal knowledge if he is really the one who inserted that.) –

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