MANILA, Philippine – Amid protests, President Benigno Aquino III defended the country’s new cybercrime law and said he wants to keep its controversial provision on online libel.
“I do not agree that we should be removing [the provision on online libel.] If you wrote something libelous, you have a responsibility. If you are a broadcaster and you said something on radio or TV, you also have responsibility. If you said the same thing on the Internet, I believe that is also libelous. Whatever the format, if what you said was wrong, I believe that the victim should have the right for redress,” Aquino told reporters in Filipino.
(Ako po’y hindi sang-ayon na tatanggalin natin…. Kung meron kang sinulat, at libelous, meron kang pananagutan. Kung ikaw naman ay broadcaster at sinabi mo sa radyo o sa TV, may pananagutan ka rin. Kung parehong libelous ang sinabi mo, dumaan ka sa Internet, siguro libelous pa rin ho ‘yon. Maski ano pang format kung talagang mali ‘yung mga pinagsasabi mo, e dapat naman ho siguro merong karapatan ‘yung taong naapi para meron siyang redress.)
The law increases penalty for libel to a maximum of 12 years imprisonment.
The President said he is open to lowering the penalties for online libel but maintains that the law should be implemented immediately.
Aquino said the new law should be seen in its entirely. He noted that the law also addresses gaps in laws covering crimes such as “computer fraud, identity theft, computer-related forgery.”
Another controversial element of the law, which went into effect on Wednesday, October 3, allows the government to monitor online activities, such as e-mail, video chats and instant messaging, without a warrant.
The government can also now close down websites it deems to be involved in criminal activities without a warrant.
Human rights groups, media organizations and netizens have voiced their outrage at the law, with some saying it echoes the curbs on freedoms imposed by Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s.
Ten petitions have so far been filed with the Supreme Court questioning the law as unconstitutional and asking for its immediate nullification.
Philippine social media has been alight with protests this week, while hackers have attacked government websites and 10 petitions have been filed with the Supreme Court calling for it to overturn the law.
Aquino, whose mother led the “people power” revolution that toppled Marcos from power in 1986, said he remained committed to freedom of speech.
But he said those freedoms were not unlimited.
“The purpose of this law is to address the shortcomings of our system, so we can have a clean Internet,” he said.
US government-funded Freedom House was among the international rights watchdogs to criticize the law this week.
Resist and defy
“Anyone who shares offending content could end up behind bars, even if he or she did not write it. Merely a Facebook ‘Like’ could be construed as libel,” it said in a statement.
“This act is a gross overreach that severely jeopardises the Philippines’ status as a country with a free Internet.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) slammed the President’s position and called for “resistance and defiance.”
“The only response to it and and a president who, as his factotums have repeatedly said, signed it with his full approval can only be resistance and defiance,” said NUJP secretary general Rowena Paraan in a statement.
“We call on all Filipino journalists and news organizations to stand up to his brazen attempt to wrest away our rights and liberties,” she added. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com