By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Media organizations filed the ninth petition to the Supreme Court seeking to declare the Cybercrime Law unconstitutional, Oct. 3.
Media groups National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and Philippine Press Institute (PPI), along with 20 media outfits, including Bulatlat.com, and more than 250 individual journalists signed the petition against Republic Act 10175.
The petitioners are asking the high court to annul or restrain specific provisions of the Cybercrime Law.
The petitioners said Republic Act No. 10175 is “a law that establishes a regime of ‘cyber authoritarianism’ and undermines all the fundamental guarantees of freedoms and liberties that many have given their lives and many still give their lives work to vindicate, restore and defend. It is a law that unduly restricts the rights and freedoms of netizens and impacts adversely on an entire generation’s way of living, studying, understanding and relating.”
The groups cited the following provisions as unconstitutional:
Sec. 4(c)(4) (Libel);
Sec. 5(a) (Aiding or Abetting in the Commission of Cybercrime);
Sec. 6 (inclusion of all felonies and crimes within coverage of the law);
Sec. 7(Liability under Other Laws);
Sec. 12 (Real-Time Collection of Traffic Data);
Secs. 14 (Disclosure of Computer Data), 15 (Search, Seizure and Examination of Computer Data), 19 (Restricting or Blocking Access to Computer Data), and 20 (Non-Compliance), where these provisions unlawfully delegate to police officers the authority to issue orders properly within the scope and sphere of judicial powers and where non¬compliance is penalized as a crime;
Sec. 24(Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center) and 26(a) (Powers and Functions), where both sections 24 and 26(a) give the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center the power to formulate a national cybersecurity plan, which should properly fall within the power of Congress and not an administrative agency.
The petitioners argued that Sec. 4 sections 4(c)(4), 5(a), 6, and 7 violate freedom of expression.
In a statement, the CMFR raised concern over the incorporation of the 82-year-old libel law in the Cybercrime Prevention Act. “Libel as a criminal offense has been used by past administrations as well as local officials today to harass and intimidate journalists,” the CMFR said, citing as example the filing by Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo of 11 libel suits against 46 journalists during the disputed presidency of his wife Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In a joint statement, fellows of the 15th Graciano Lopez Jaena Community Journalism said the Cybercrime law has made libel even worse with minimum punishment for online libel raised twelve-fold. “A mere status update on Facebook may be deemed defamatory and all those who would like and share it may be liable for “aiding or abetting the commission of cybercrime,” they said.
The petitioners also pointed out that the law fails to define what acts constitute “abetting or aiding” the commission of cybercrime, especially in the distinct context of social media and online journalism.
The petitioners said that Section 4(c)(4), 5(a), and 6 of the law, which criminalize the use of “information and communications technologies” (ICT), render Republic Act no. 10175 a bill of attainder; further, sec. 20, which makes non-compliance with orders of law enforcement authorities punishable criminally also renders the law a bill of attainder. A bill of attainder is a legislative act that inflicts punishment to a person or group of persons without trial. In the case of the Cybercrime Law, netizens are singled out.
The law also violates the constitutional guarantee of protection against double jeopardy and violate due process and equal protection, the petitioners argued.
The petitioners claimed that the law violates Rule 117, section 7 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure which states that double jeopardy would bar subsequent prosecutions “for the offense charged, or for any attempt to commit the same or a frustration thereof, or for any offense which necessarily includes or is necessarily included in the offense charged in the former complaint or information.”
“In providing for a prosecution for cybercrime “without prejudice to any liability for any violation” of the Revised Penal Code or special laws, sections 7 and 6 violate the prohibition against double jeopardy,” the petitioners said.
The media groups also stated in the petition that Section 12 violates the right of privacy of communication and correspondence as it allows the real-time collection of traffic data and effectively surveillance without a warrant.
“The cybercrime law is effective even without the implementing rules and regulations; unless the implementation of the law is restrained, petitioners stand to suffer grave and irreparable injury with no speedy or adequate remedy at law,” they said.
In their statement, fellows of the 15th Graciano Lopez Jaena Community Journalism pointed out that Section 19 of the law provides the Department of Justice the unbridled power to block or restrict access to computer data if found prima facie to be in violation of the law. “The Justice Secretary, acting as judge and executioner, may order the take down of any website, or even an account to a social networking site without due process,” they said.
The CMFR said the Cybercrime Law “can signal the opening of the floodgates of Internet regulation that will affect Filipino netizens, given the restrictive mindset of the country’s leaders.” “It is a distinct possibility to which journalists and bloggers, ordinary citizen and anyone committed to free expression through whatever medium, should be alert, and must be prepared to combat.”