Int’l watchdog hits cybercrime law
Based in New York, Human Rights Watch wants the Philippine government to repeal or replace the cybercrime law

MANILA, Philippines – Protests against the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 have gone beyond Philippine shores.

The New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch on Friday, September 28, criticized the cybercrime law for “drastically” increasing penalties for libel, and giving authorities “excessive and unchecked powers” to shut down websites and track information online.

“The cybercrime law needs to be repealed or replaced,” said HRW Asia director Brad Adams in a statement. “It violates Filipinos’ rights to free expression and it is wholly incompatible with the Philippine government’s obligations under international law.”

HRW noted that the cybercrime law’s penalties for online libel, a criminal offense, pose a “serious threat” to freedom of expression.

Various parties have filed cases before the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional. On Rappler’s #TalkThursday, Lawyer Theodore Te said the cybercrime law is the “first important test” for the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. (Watch more in the video below.)

Repeal libel law

Even before the cybercrime law controversy erupted, however, HRW has led the fight against the Philippines’ criminal libel law, which the cybercrime law adopted. HRW wants the Philippine government to repeal its existing criminal libel law, but claims the Aquino administration “has shown little inclination” to support the decriminalization of libel.

“Anybody using popular social networks or who publishes online is now at risk of a long prison term should a reader – including government officials – bring a libel charge,” Adams explained. “Allegedly libelous speech, online or offline, should be handled as a private civil matter, not a crime.”

Compounding problems regarding the cybercrime law, even policemen show confusion over it, particularly Section 19 and its provision on libel. (Read the entire law below)

“This one needs further detail through (implementing rules and regulations). That’s what we’re waiting for because honestly we really do have a lot of questions,” said Director Samuel Pagdilao Jr, head of the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, during a media forum Tuesday, September 25.

The Palace itself on Thursday, September 27, appealed to various groups to wait for the law’s implementing rules and regulations, but said it respects their decision to question the law before the Supreme Court. –

. More on the Cybercrime Law: