Like! Media, netizens, rights groups laud SC's TRO

MANILA, Philippines - Days after slamming the government for defending the new cybercrime law, journalists, netizens and international advocacy groups lauded the Supreme Court for issuing a temporary restriction order (TRO) against the implementation of the law.

In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, October 9, the High Court issued its verdict after 15 petitions had been filed questioning the constitutionality of the law, which criminalizes libel and allows government agencies to collect Internet traffic data, among other provisions.

The TRO arrived less than a week after the controversial law came into effect and in the wake of protests by media groups, lawyers and other sectors against the new powers to shut down websites based on prima facie evidence of libelous content.

Final ruling requested

"It is the right thing and the very least that the High Court can do confronted with a blatantly unconstitutional and repressive law," the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in a statement.

The NUJP commended all those who have "defiantly stood up, spoke and fought against this latest assault on our hard-won freedoms," and called on the Supreme Court to render a final ruling declaring the law unconstitutional and legislators to "decriminalize libel."

Nevertheless, the media advocacy group noted that "the battle to defend our basic rights is far from over" and said the protests must continue until the bill is fully repealed.

When the law came into effect last Monday, the NUJP criticized President Benigno Aquino III for defending the law and called for the media to show "resistance and defiance."

Victory for netizens

Representing Internet users and writers, the newly-formed Bloggers and Netizens for Democracy (BAND) stressed that the TRO is "a victory for citizens vigilant about their freedoms and about democracy online and offline."

"Bad news for President Aquino, good news for netizens of world's social media capital," BAND said in a statement.

The group also noted that the unanimous vote by the Supreme Court justices is a "bad omen" for the President, who is "remorseless, arrogant and unrepentant about the law he signed."

TRO just first step

Not only local organizations but also foreign groups lauded the TRO, like the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The New York-based watchdog, which a week ago warned that the cybercrime law's penalties posed a “serious threat” to freedom of expression, said that the temporary restraining order is a good first step but must not be the last one.

The Court should now go further by striking down this "seriously flawed law," HRW noted in a statement.

If the Philippines still wants a law governing online activity, the bill must ensure it does not "infringe on civil liberties, human rights, the Constitution and the Philippines’s obligations under international law" like the current law, the group added.

"All provisions in Philippine law that allow for imprisonment for peaceful expression should be repealed. Congress should also ensure that any discussion on proposed laws be done in a transparent manner.” -