The government of the Philippines passed a bill, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, that encompasses hacking, cybersex, cyber squatting as well as those making libelous comments on the internet. In this day and age, where hackers are lurking in every corner of cyberspace, it just seems right to pass a law that would penalize these culprits. But the problem with this law is that it curtails the freedom of expression.
First of all, I commend the government for doing something with regards to cybersex trafficking and cyberprostitution. The problem is, and as The Verge pointed out, the law is so broad that it threatens to even go after consenting individuals.
We can’t deny the fact that a lot people use the internet to have a little bit of fun when it comes to cybersex. They do it because they like the thrill of the game and some even prefer the virtual environment, as you can’t get sexually transmitted infections when having cybersex, unlike the chances you take with a one-night stand.
Another thing is, why in the world did they include comments as on offense? Is it because they don’t want Filipinos to talk about how crappy the government is or how corrupt the officials are? And does this mean that Facebook accounts will be monitored and those poking fun would be penalized as well?
According to the National Union of Journalist of the Philippines, the passing of the bill was “sneaky and betrays this administration’s commitment to transparency and freedom of expression.” And I agree with them completely. President Benigno Aquino III always stated in his speeches that he’s for government transparency but with this bill, who is he kidding? In the new law, the government clearly wants to stop people from freely expressing themselves. Even commenting on Facebook is punishable.
The “Cybercrime Prevention Act actually broadens the scope of a libel law so antiquated and draconian that the United Nations Human Rights Council itself declared it excessive and called on the Philippine government to review the law with the end of decriminalizing libel,” the publication added.
The inclusion of the libel clause was made at the last minute, and as Filipino blogger Raissa Robles stated, no congressional public hearing for libel on the internet was ever made. The funny thing is, the inclusion of libel in the bill was the idea of Senator Tito Sotto, who is known for plagiarizing speeches and pretending he didn’t know.
While the senate was hearing the pros and cons from the senators regarding the Reproductive Health bill, Sotto delivered a speech taken from Janice Formichella’s essay on Feminists for Choice. Looking at the timeline of events, the insertion of libel in the bill stems from the fact that people on Facebook were criticizing him for his plagiarized speeches. He even threatened Facebook users that once the cyberbill became a law, his critics will be penalized.
“Definitely, there are groups who are professional faultfinders who have nothing to do but sit in front of their computers and dig for faults, when their real target is the RH bill,” Sotto said. “Once the cybercrime bill is enacted into law, they will be accountable for what they say or write,” the senator said.
Another issue with the libel clause is that in the Philippines, libel cases are based on the meaning of the word, not on how the person used the word or how it was delivered. This means comments are quite open to interpretation. That can leave a lot of people in a lot of trouble.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization protecting the rights of internet users, stated that this bill gravely concerns them especially with regards to “the implications of the libel provision in the Cybercrime Act and supports local journalists and free expression advocates in opposing it.”