much ado about something

i wonder who among those who have complained the loudest about the cybercrime law have actually read it, and bothered to see how libel is defined by our revised penal code and how our courts have weighed the constitutional right to freedom of expression, and a person's right not to be pilloried in public. i wonder if any of them have bothered to look up jurisprudence on libel, to see how the courts have consistently interpreted this law. i wonder if they've ever wondered why opinion columnists and broadcast journalists, who regularly go on record by making unkind remarks about the government continue to thrive, see print, and get lavished by airtime. i have, and while i agree that the last-minute insertion of online libel to provisions that were meant to address online crimes such as hacking, identity theft, pornography, cybersquatting and spam exposes this act of congress to challenges of constitutionality, the law has not changed the definition of libel to include the mere expression of an opinion, even ones that may be critical. this is the reason why i am not joining this online "revolution" to protest the law.

i wonder if all these people who are turning their facebook profile pictures into black pages have actually read the provisions on libel and what it means to publicly and maliciously impute a vice, crime or defect upon another person, even if true, or anything that might result in his dishonor, discredit or contempt, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. there is nothing in the cybercrime law which says that you can no longer criticize government, its agencies and officials. there is even no mention at all of cyber-bullying.

i am not as quick as other people -- some of whom are better versed than i when it comes to the law, but most of whom have practically no idea what they're talking about -- to sound the death knell of free speech. a mere law cannot kill a right guaranteed by our democracy and enshrined in the constitution. if i keep my speech within the boundaries protected by art. III, § 4 of the constitution, then i need not worry.

i agree that the provision on online libel gives rise to strange situations that make a mockery of the truths that we hold to be self-evident. what makes the law infirm are the following: (1) it possibly violates your right against double jeopardy, by stating in § 7 that "a prosecution under this Act shall be without prejudice to any liability for violation of any provision of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, or special laws." this really was meant to punish possibly the operation of a child pornography website. the law punishes a cybercriminal for selling child pornography on the internet, but this doesn't excuse him from being punished for forcing children to engage in pornographic acts. with libel, the punishable statement is completed by an act of publication, such as pressing "post" or "tweet", so a separate prosecution under the RPC would certainly violate a person's right to being prosecuted twice for the same act. (2) it arms the NBI with powers so great, you wonder whether they actually have the ability to shut down websites like facebook or twitter. governments more powerful than ours have failed to silence wikileaks, what makes us think that the government could actually refuse us access to our social networks? this really is a violation of our rights against unlawful searches and seizures, since it emboldens them with confiscatory authority on the mere suspicion (prima facie evidence, which means on its face) that the crime of online libel has been committed. such is the folly of inserting a provision that wasn't supposed to be there: what was meant to be a means of preserving evidence of operating child porn can be used to confiscate an individual's iPad because they have been used to spread vile rumors about another person. even assuming that person to be guilty of libel, it certainly does not deprive him of the right to have an electronic gadget. (3) the provision on aiding and abetting, in the context of online libel, gives rise to the possiblity that persons liking or sharing or retweeting or reposting libelous statements will also suffer a jail term. in theory i actually agree that we should not help in the spread of false rumors, but the aider/abeter in the context of online libel may not have been motivated by malice when he helped spread the vile statements because he actually felt he was doing the world a service.

but i disagree with many things. i disagree with the interpretation, unfortunately spread by some eminent lawyers, that term of imprisonment for online libel is twice what the RPC prescribes, based on what § 6 states: "All crimes defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code... if committed by, through and with the use of information and communications technologies shall be covered by the relevant provision of this Act: Provided, That the penalty to be imposed shall be one (1) degree higher than that provided for by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws, as the case may be." clearly it already refers to crimes other than those already described therein, but where the perpetration involved the use of computers and the internet. an example would be this: the sale of prohibited and illegal drugs is punishable by law, but selling them by means of the internet (such as online discussion boards) would merit a longer jail sentence.

i disagree with the statement of cong. casiño when he says that punishing individuals for their libelous tweets and facebook messages is like punishing individuals for their private conversations. there is nothing private about a tweet or a status update on facebook. unless the security settings have been tweaked, they can be accessed by friends, and even friends of friends. if that tweet or status update is in fact proven to be libelous, then these cannot be compared to private conversations, which are unrecorded and fleeting, because they remain as some obscure binary code stashed in a server that can possibly survive a nuclear holocaust.

i disagree that the cybercrime law will stymy the freedoms we enjoy online. even without it, our actions online are already limited by decency and existing laws, even the RPC provisions on libel. for the freedom of expression is not absolute; it ends when what is being expressed may result precisely in the destruction of another person's reputation.

i wonder, sometimes, what those protesting against the cybercrime law want to achieve. do they merely want the provision on online libel to be declared void, or do they want libel itself to be decriminalized? even if the supreme court were to strike down this provision, or the entire law altogether, the fact is that libel is still a crime defined and punished by the RPC. even without this provision in the cybercrime law, libelous statements can still be posted online. no one -- certainly not those who have trumpeted the end of our precious freedoms -- should feel triumphant should the supreme court agree to nullify RA 10175, because they can still be charged with libel for whatever they say online. it is not as if our rights on facebook and twitter have been unfettered all this time. it is not as if we can say whatever we want. there are things -- accusations, bold, sweeping and calculated to cast others in an awfully bad light -- could get you into trouble. already, several lower courts are hearing charges of libel based on statements made online, particularly twitter, youtube, and possibly even facebook. i could only hope that these cases eventually reach the supreme court, so that we may be educated on what passes for publication in the context of this era of connectivity.

and even if the online libel provision were to stay, in the fell chance that the supreme court decides to affirm it, i fear nothing, lose nothing. i don't think that my habits on facebook or twitter will dramatically change, or that i should feel extra cautious about what i plan to say. i have never gone beyond the ambit of fair comment, even when i am critical of something or someone. i have never stated anything that might bring disrepute to anyone, or accused someone of being a criminal, even if it were true. i have never participated in an angry online mob to lynch individuals just because one of my friends has posted a story which may very well be unverified, or even if true, does nothing for anyone i know or love, in the guise of keeping people informed. i have never even posted warnings, complete with pictures of strangers, plate numbers, phone numbers, addresses, of anything that i myself do not for a fact know.

Even clicking the "like" button is libel already.

hindi naman agad-agad mike. ang totoo, ang crime lang ay aiding and abetting a cyber offense. hehe. kaya mag ingat lang tayo lahat wag padalos dalos.
Gardemmet! Even clicking the "like" button is libel already. Ingat. -- Mike Brito
Did you miss out the provision on court order? You didn't because there is none. Meaning, if you are suspected of any violation of the act, the police can already search your house, seize your computer, etc. WITHOUT COURT ORDER.