SC denies bids to review Cybercrime law ruling

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SC denies bids to review Cybercrime law ruling
The SC denies the motions for reconsideration on the Cybercrime law filed by at least 5 sets of petitioners

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) found no reason to review and eventually reverse its ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Cybercrime law with select provisions struck down.

In its en banc summer session Tuesday, April 22, in Baguio City, the SC denied the motions for reconsideration (MRs) on the Cybercrime law filed by at least 5 sets of petitioners. (READ: Hope renewed for SC review of Cybercrime ruling)

“The same Justices maintained their dissents (Sereno, CJ., Carpio, SAJ., Brion, Mendoza, Leonen, JJ.,; Velasco and Perlas-Bernabe, no part.),” said the SC in a media briefing.

The controversial legislation – which defines and penalizes crimes online, including online libel – was seen by critics as undue government control of online content.

The SC decision on the Cybercrime law, penned by retiring Justice Roberto Abad, was released February 18. The SC, in a 12-2-1 split decision, favored criminalizing online libel when it comes to the original author of the post. (READ: SC rules online libel constitutional)

Public consultations on the law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) are now ongoing, after the government’s technical working groups completed their draft. The law will be implemented after the publication of the final IRR. (READ: Public consultations on IRR of Cybercrime law set)

MRs filed

In a matter of 3 days in mid-March, various groups – including youth leaders, lawyers, bloggers and netizens, journalists, and leftist activists – appealed before the SC to have its ruling reviewed.

All wanting the cybercrime ruling overturned either fully or partially, the petitioners cited “vagueness and overbreadth” of the February ruling as the basis of their MRs.

Among those who filed MRs were the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance, the Bayan Muna Party-list and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), the Bloggers and Netizens for Democracy, and the Philippine Bar Association. The Center for International Law filed a motion for partial reconsideration.

“Criminal libel has no place in the modern world,” Kabataan Party-list Rep Terry Ridon earlier said, whose youth group was among the first to file an MR.

Dissenting opinions

The SC’s 12-2-1 split vote on the issue of online libel was one particular point of frustration for petitioners, who wanted the votes to go the other way.

Justice Marvic Leonen, the sole dissenter on the issue, had the most liberal stance. The outvoted justice wanted libel decriminalized altogether, deciding in favor of “less draconian alternatives” such as civil actions.

Differing also in opinion from the majority on the issue of libel, Justices Antonio Carpio and Arturo Brion voted to reverse the “presumed malice rule” followed in Philippine libel cases and shift the legal burden of proving malice from defendants to public officials.

An 8-decade rule outlined in the Revised Penal Code, the “presumed malice rule” burdens the defendant who is often a journalist to prove that he or she had “good intentions” and a “justifiable” motive in publicizing the allegedly defamatory material. As named, the element of malice is presumed. (READ: Shift burden in libel cases to public officials, say 2 justices)

Carpio and Brion wanted the rule struck down where it pertains to libel cases involving public officers or public figures. They wanted to uphold instead the “actual malice” doctrine, which burdens the plaintiff with proving that the allegedly libelous content was made public by the defendant with reckless disregard for the truth or with the knowledge that it was false. –

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