POSTSCRIPT / October 2, 2012 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Cyberlibel law faces likely debacle in SC

USELESS I.R.R.: Considering that the two-week-old Cybercrime Prevention Act is shot through with questionable provisions and that human rights advocates and a wide sector of media are opposing it, the Supreme Court is likely to strike it down.

To minimize damage all around, one recourse is for the Executive to defer its implementation, while, in the words of a Malacañang spokesman, the law is “refined.”

Refining means revising or amending it, possibly by tweaking the law through the Implementing Rules and Regulations. But the IRR cannot sufficiently and validly cure the substantial defects. The IRR cannot amend the law itself.

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REPEAL BETTER?: Amending it through the regular legislative process will be messy, requiring the rewriting many of the paragraphs. With such massive rewriting, the law might as well be repealed and a better crafted substitute measure passed.

Does the administration need such a restrictive cybercrime law so badly – and for what? — that it would certify the urgency of a new bill to take the place of RA 10175?

Rushing a substitute requires considerable time and resources. Besides, its repeal and the enactment of a new law would hurt the pride of the lawmakers who passed it and the President who signed it into law.

It seems we would end up watching as the Supreme Court tears the cybercrime law into pieces before dumping it as an unconstitutional piece of legislation.

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LIBEL TRAP:  The law’s defects are so numerous that it is a wonder more than 200 congressmen and two dozen senators, not to mention the stable of legal wizards advising the President, were unable to spot them.

The trend worldwide is to decriminalize libel — one of the crimes touched upon briefly (in just one sentence) in RA 10175 — but the “anti-wangwang”administration preferred to do a counterflow.

The new law did not only widen the application of the libel provisions of the Revised Penal Code to cover similar offenses in the Internet but also raised one degree higher the penalties on libel committed in cyberspace.

The usual jail term for libel, applicable to traditional print and broadcast media, is four years. But under RA 10175, anyone posting a libelous comment online could go to jail for 12 years. This is apart from the possible payment of increased damages.

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SUPER CYBERSPY: The new law allows the Department of Justice to routinely monitor postings on Facebook, Twitter and other online media and listen in on voice/video applications, such as Skype, without a court warrant.

If the superspies of the Executive department find prima facie evidence of violations, the DoJ may take down the offending material and medium. The department is allowed to do this even without a court order.

The gathering of traffic data such as on volume, speed and routing of online messages may be different from the monitoring of content, identities and other personal data of users, but the distinction is not clear.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has given assurances that she would be careful not to violate personal rights, such as on privacy, when her monitors gather Internet data. But such guarantee is not spelled out in the law.

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DOWN THE DRAIN: Before the cybercrime law was passed, only print and broadcast media were subject to libel law. Malicious defamation in the Internet went unpunished because there was no law making such act an offense. It is the law that makes an act a crime.

Sponsors of RA 10175 sought to even up the application of libel law, but bungled it with their clumsy insertion of sections violating or tending to violate freedom of expression, due process, equal protection and privacy of communication.

In the process, even the laudable objective of giving teeth to law enforcement against cyber pornography, hacking, identity theft and spamming was compromised.

If the entire law is declared unconstitutional, despite its separability clause, all the well-meaning measures will go down the drain.

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BIG BOYS SUED: A complaint for plunder with wide-ranging implications citing a number of big shots and giant companies has been filed with the Ombudsman by a businessman involving the sale of a minority block of shares in the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).

The complainant, Emilio Aguinaldo Suntay, said, “The mismanagement, pillage and eventual collapse of these companies involved will lead to an economic meltdown and crisis gravely affecting all of us. The repercussions of this action may lead to numerous and costly legal harassment and countersuits as well as threats or against life, property, and liberty.”

Among those he named respondents were businessmen Roberto Ongpin and Ramon Ang, as well as top lawyer Estelito Mendoza and Supreme Court Justice Lucas Bersamin.

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SWING SHARES: Suntay’s complaint alleged irregularities and losses incurred by the government in a 2008 transaction involving some Meralco shares under a purchase agreement between the business groups led by Ongpin and Ang of diversified conglomerate San Miguel Corp., and government-run financial institutions.

The purchase, he alleged, was disadvantageous to the state. The government-run institutions named included the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines, and the Government Service Insurance System.

He said the state firms’ Meralco shares were bought by units of San Miguel Corp and Ongpin-led firms. Meralco was then controlled by the Lopez family and the shares in question were pivotal in the battle for control by major business groups.

The shares representing about 10 percent of Meralco were crucial in determining which business group, including one led by businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, could control the giant power firm.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 2, 2012)

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