Palace: TRO signal to amend cybercrime law

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Malacañang says the Supreme Court TRO may be a signal to Congress to amend the anti-cybercrime law

CONGRESS' CUE. Malacañang says the Supreme Court TRO may be a signal to Congress to amend the anti-cybercrime law. File photo from Senate website

MANILA, Philippines – Congress, take the hint.

Malacañang said the Supreme Court order temporarily stopping the implementation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 may be a signal to Congress to amend the controversial law.

In a press briefing on Wednesday, October 10, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the High Court may have sent the message by issuing the 120-day temporary restraining order. The order was issued on Tuesday, October 9, or less than a week after the law took effect.

“This is the first time we have or a very rare time when the Supreme Court has issued a TRO which is definite in date, in scope. Normally, when the Supreme Court issues a TRO, it is indefinite so perhaps this is a signal to the legislature if you would like to finalize whatever amendments you wish to do,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda said the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office can help provide inputs on the amendments of the anti-cybercrime law.

“Even the President had said … the President is open to lower the penalties for cyber libel, isn’t it? So we are open. This is a legislative act and no law is cast in stone so it’s always subject to amendments.”

The law sets a penalty for online libel and other cybercrimes one degree higher than that provided for in the Revised Penal Code. Critics said this provision and other parts of the law are too sweeping and violate the Constitution, particularly freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

Lacierda said the Supreme Court and Congress are two “independent tracks” in changing the law.

“Some senators [and congressmen] have already mentioned that they intend to push for some amendments also in the House. So this would be perhaps a good time and also an opportunity for the legislature to amend the law itself,” Lacierda added.

Lawmakers, including those who authored and voted for the law, have filed several bills to amend the anti-cybercrime law. Related bills to decriminalize libel were also been filed in past days.

‘Use other laws vs cybercrimes’

Congress and President Benigno Aquino III have drawn flak for the passage and enactment of the law, with some groups labeling it as “e-martial law.”

Lacierda, however, said the label is baseless.

“There is no such thing as an e-martial law even prior to the issuance of the TRO,” he said.

With the TRO in place, Lacierda said the government can fight cybercrimes by using other laws. He said it will be the Justice Department that will determine the best course of action.

“With respect to cybercrimes, for instance, pornography, maybe the other laws [can be applied.] I would leave it to the DOJ if they can apply other laws in the meantime,” Lacierda said.

He added, “For instance, the E-Commerce [Law] said hacking is a crime [that is] punishable …. Some laws may be able to address those cybercrimes.”

Lacierda said the order will have consequences to government’s efforts to fight cybercrimes but reiterated that existing laws can still be used.  

“It’s a temporary setback,” he said.

Asked if there is a need to augment the Palace legal team following the TRO, Lacierda said, “We have a good team.”

The spokesperson said there was just a “difference on emphasis” in the provisions of the law.

“We recognize the importance of addressing those cyber crimes and that’s why that was emphasized,” Lacierda said.

But lawmakers wait for SC

Despite Lacierda’s interpretation that the TRO was a signal to Congress, some lawmakers have said they prefer to wait for the Supreme Court’s final decision on the matter.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile told reporters on Tuesday that he opts to wait for the ruling.

“[The TRO] does not stop us from amending the law if there is a necessity but in my case, I suggest that we wait for the Supreme Court to make a decision so that we will know what are the defects they want us to correct. We are not infallible people,” Enrile said.

One of the authors of the law, Sen Edgarda Angara, agreed. Angara said it is best to pause and wait for the court. “After all the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of any legal question.” – 

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