Miriam: SC ruling on online libel erroneous

Ayee Macaraig
'Here we have case of jurisprudence trailing after technology because of lack of understanding'

'VAGUE, TOO BROAD.' Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago says the SC ruling on online libel in the cybercrime law is erroneous because the provision is too vague and too broad. Photo by Ayee Macaraig/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago called the Supreme Court ruling upholding the legality of online libel in the anti-cybercrime law erroneous.

In a press briefing on Thursday, February 20, Santiago said the provision on online libel violated two principles of constitutional law against vagueness and overbreadth.

“So for these two reasons, the void for vagueness doctrine and overbreadth doctrine, I humbly submit that the Supreme Court ruling on this particular provision is erroneous,” said Santiago, a constitutional law expert and former trial court judge. 

Santiago said the ruling posed “a very significant constraint” on the fundamental rights to free speech and free expression enshrined in the Constitution. 

“In case of doubt, the doubt must be resolved in favor of freedom and against restriction. That is the meaning of that wording. Otherwise, there is no reason why the framers would have used that kind of terminology and would have placed it as Section 1 of the Bill of Rights,” she added.

Santiago said the ruling is vague, even if it limited the liability for online libel to the original author of the post.

“Of course, the Supreme Court said it is only the sender who is liable, not the person who is commenting or who is receiving. But what do these words mean? Who is the sender? The service provider? The individual netizen? Or if they’re a group, how do we identify them? Or even worse, if they are not using their true identities, how are you going to go beyond what they profess to be their identities on the Internet? That is the main problem today.”

Santiago called on netizens to rally against the decision by filing a motion for reconsideration, and supporting her crowdsourced bill, the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom (MCPIF). Santiago said netizens from different professions, lawyers and engineers, crowdsourced the measure and submitted it to her office to establish a framework for information and communication technology (ICT) in the Philippines.

“I support fully a motion for reconsideration to reconsider the ruling with respect to online libel and then with respect to congressional action, I have already filed my bill. I will now redouble my efforts to convince the chair of the committee, the members of the committee and the entire Senate in plenary session that we have to pass a new law that will in effect overturn the decision of the Supreme Court but only with respect to online libel.”

Santiago’s statement comes two days after the Supreme Court upheld most provisions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, including the provision that online libel is a crime. The Court though struck down the provision allowing the secretary of justice to take down online content without a court warrant, and that allowing the real-time recording of “traffic data.”

The Court has yet to release the text of the decision. 

Watch Santiago’s statements below.


‘Internet a different universe’

Santiago said the SC decision mistakenly treated the Internet as similar to traditional media when they are “two completely different universes.”

“I just think it was a bad idea for the Supreme Court to look at the Internet as another form of publication.”

“The Supreme Court is treating social media as if it were just a scion, a successor, or just another classification of traditional media. It is not! Here, we have a case where unfortunately, jurisprudence trailing after technology because of lack of information about how the Internet operates in society.”

Santiago said the Supreme Court and the public have to “acquaint your self with the power of the Internet and the way that it regulates its own dynamics.”

She said in print and broadcast media, it is difficult for aggrieved parties to have equal time and space to air their side because of factors like money. The Internet is “unlike the restricted universe of traditional media.”

“In the Internet, if someone posts a blog, or a tweet or some comment against you, you have the full right to answer him in kind and you don’t have to pay him anything.”

“Someone calls you names? Then you call him back with names too and all the rest will fill in with their own opinions. That is the basic idea of the marketplace of ideas,” she said. “If you limit the conversation to what you think should be the proper subject of civil discourse then in that sense you are limiting the people’s right to express themselves.” 

Santiago noted that revolutions all around the world including the French Revolution “arose because the monarch or the executive insisted or denied the people their right to free speech.”

“You began to realize this should have been handled more gently by the Supreme Court and not just dismissed as another form of publication.”

‘Impractical for libel to be crime’

Besides appealing the decision and pushing for the MCPIF, Santiago called for the decriminalization of libel, meaning the removal of the prison penalty. She cited the global trend to do so.

Santiago joined her colleagues in the call. The lone senator who voted against the law, Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, filed a bill Thursday to decriminalize libel.

Senators Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano and Francis Escudero previously filed similar measures. Cayetano also wants to repeal the online libel provision in the cybercrime law. Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr filed a bill lowering the penalty for online libel

Santiago said that aside from the legal grounds, libel should be decriminalized because of practical purposes.

“There will be extreme difficulty in law enforcement and if you cannot enforce a law, you better strike it off the records because it promotes contempt for the law.”

“Number two, it will add to the burgeoning prison population of this country …Is it practical? How many people are using the Internet every day, day to day?”

Santiago said that in holding protests or mass demonstrations against the Court ruling, netizens are not at risk of libel but of contempt from the Supreme Court.

“If you review the decisions of the Supreme Court, if you call other agencies names, the Supreme Court will say, ‘We uphold freedom of speech.’ If you call the Supreme Court names, the Supreme Court will say, ‘We hold you in contempt,’” she quipped and laughed. – Rappler.com



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