The Cybercrime Prevention Act: Separating Chaff from Grain

Note: I originally posted this article on my FB page last October 9, 2012.

[Breaking News: As of this writing in a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court just issued a temporary restraining order against the implementation of the RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act in response to the 15 petitions filed questioning its constitutionality.]

We need not throw the Cybercrime Prevention Act grain with the libel chaff. The grain, we eat. The chaff, we burn. (When I posted it on Twitter, Teddy Locsin Jr. [@teddyboylocsin] tweeted back, “Sunugin ang [Burn the] planter.”)

If we are not careful, we might end up burning the grain and eating the chaff. The grain of the law would be penalizing, for example, identity theft, child pornography and spamming (that is, sending unsolicited commercial communications). The chaff would be the questionable provisions of the law such as imposing a harsher penalty on libel.

In his “Cybercrime Act: Features and issues,” Atty. JJ Disini wrote, The Act’s libel provision seemed harmless on its face. … But the Act provides that online libel is punished by one degree higher and that the prosecution under the law would still be independent of a separate prosecution for libel under the Revised Penal Code. … Under the old regime, an accused facing libel can expect to face no more than four years and two months jail time. Under the Act, the maximum penalty shot up to 10 years.  Since the penalties were cumulative, a single act of online libel can attract a maximum jail time of more than 14 years. … The double convictions and the increased penalties made the accused ineligible for probation, thus guaranteeing imprisonment.(Phil. Daily Inquirer, Oct. 6, 2012) That provision is so out of sync in a world that decriminalizes libel. Not only that it is double jeopardy, it also muzzles freedom of speech.

The government reminds us that freedom comes with responsibility. Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said, “Freedom of expression is not absolute.” (The Philippine Star, September 28, 2012) When I read that, I wanted to donate a mirror to Malacañang. We are not asking for absolute freedom to shout the proverbial “Fire!” in a crowded movie house. What we are defending is the freedom to remind the government that their power is not an absolute right. We want to post, blog, tweet and text to them without fear and without doubt that it is a privilege we gave them and that we hold them accountable for it.

Burn the chaff… Or else, the planter will feel the heat.


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