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PNoy backs online libel

Critics Say It’s Censorship, But Aquino Assures It Won’t Be Used To Suppress Dissent

Manila, Philippines — President Benigno S. Aquino III yesterday defended the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 that penalizes online libel, saying the public has nothing to fear if they are telling the truth.

The President tried to allay public concerns a day after the Supreme Court ruled that the new law’s online libel provision was constitutional.

Critics, however, said the libel provision will result in effective censorship and may be used against those who criticize anti-people policies and corrupt practices of the government.

But Aquino, speaking to reporters after an inspection of a government housing project in Manila, said Republic Act No. 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012) will not be used to suppress dissent in the country.


Nothing To Fear

Will freedom of expression be stopped? I don’t think that is the purpose of the law, Aquino said in Filipino.

We were taught in school that your rights end when they impinge on the rights of others, he added.

I repeat, if you are telling the truth, why would you fear libel? he added.

But Edre U. Olalia, National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) secretary general, said: “The chilling effect of a Damocles’ sword for those who are wired basically remains. Any blanket threat of criminal prosecution for online libel tilts the balance for untrammeled state intervention and will practically result in effective censorship, if not timidity or inordinate trepidation.”

However, Aquino said that if erring print and broadcast journalists can be sued for libel, then the libel provision must also be applied to digital platforms.

If there is libel on TV, radio, and in the newspaper, should that be exempted when stated in another format? Aquino asked. He said that even journalists would likely protest should there be “unequal protection.”

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of online libel and majority provisions of the country’s cybercrime law last Monday. The online libel clause, however, is deemed unconstitutional only when it penalizes those who simply receive the post or react to it, according to the High Court.

The law was signed by President Aquino in 2012 but its implementation was stopped by the Supreme Court amid a flurry of complaints from various groups.


Decriminalizing Libel Pushed

Meanwhile, the Senate will still push through with amending a key provision in the Cybercrime Prevention Act even after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of online libel, Senator Francis Escudero said.

“We respect the decision of the Supreme Court but still there is a need to pass amendments with regards to removing the libel provision stated in the law,” Escudero said in an interview.

Escudero has earlier filed Senate Bill No. 126, repealing Section 4 of the Republic Act No. 10175, finding basis on the unequivocal constitutional provision on freedom of speech.

He said the Upper Chamber has to take into consideration Senate Bill No. 2162, a bill he also filed decriminalizing libel under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code.

Escudero said he is in favor of decriminalizing libel, downgrading the liability from criminal to civil liability.

Nonetheless, Escudero said he sees no need to repeal the anti-cybercrime law which he believes could be a key instrument in helping law enforcement authorities to clamp down on cybersex operations, identity theft, and other Internet-related crimes. (With reports from Francis T. Wakefield, Chito A. Chavez, and Hannah L. Torregoza)