Supreme Court’s TRO Vs. Cybercime Law: A People’s Victory, Although Temporary

by Benjie Oliveros

 

MANILA – Calling it as the worst attack on the freedom of expression since martial law, the petitioners, people’s organizations, and groups of netizens, bloggers, and students united under the hashtag #NotoCybercrimeLawwent back to the Supreme Court on October 9 to voice their opposition to the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and awaited the decision of the Supreme Court on their urgent petition for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) or a Status Quo Ante Order.

It would be remembered that the Supreme Court was supposed to hear the petitions last October 2 but deferred to do so for lack of quorum.

However, they did not wait in vain as the Supreme Court, through a unanimous decision, issued a TRO on the implementation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 by noontime.

“It is a victory for the people, albeit a temporary one,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). “The next step is to urge the Supreme Court to declare the law as unconstitutional.” While monitoring the Supreme Court hearings on the 15 petitions, the #NotoCybercrimeLaw alliance would be planning subsequent protest actions, one of which will be on the one month’s anniversary of President Aquino’s signing of the law on October 12.

The protest action gathered a mixture of people, almost all in black shirts: activists – most visible of which were from Bayan, Gabriela, Migrante, Kilusang Mayo Uno, College Editors Guild of the Philippines, Bayan Muna and Kabataan – computer professionals under the Computer Professionals Union, netizens, bloggers, journalists and students. While some appeared to have joined a rally for the first time, the protest action was no less serious and forceful. Representatives from various groups took turns bashing the controversial law. At the same time, there was a freedom wall where anybody could express their opposition to the cybercrime law, free T-shirt printing featuring the call “No to Cybercrime Law,” and street painting.

The protest action also ushered in a new form of protest: the protesters raised their gadgets while chanting “Defy the Cybercrime Law.”

Earlier, in a press conference before the rally, representatives of the different petitioners reiterated the main points of their opposition to the law, which they have expounded during a forum-meeting October 6 at the UP College of Law, and urged the Supreme Court to act urgently on their petitions.

“This is a law that gathered the most number of petitions filed before the Supreme Court against it,” said Bayan Muna Rep. and Makabayan senatorial candidate Teddy Casiño. “It is obvious that the Senate and the bicameral committee of Congress committed a mistake and it is up to the Supreme Court to correct it.”

Various contentious issues

During the forum-meeting last October 6, Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino said youth groups such as the League of Filipino Students, Anakbayan, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, among others are urging the Supreme Court to strike down the vague definitions and questionable provisions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which include online libel, the increase in penalties for such, the power given to the Department of Justice (DoJ) to take down any website it deems as violating the law even without a court order, and the authority given to the government to monitor traffic data, also even without a court order, and confiscate computers and other devices that are found to have been used in the commission of a crime.

Palatino also enumerated the legislative measures they have initiated to counter the controversial law such as House Bill 6613 repealing the questionable provisions of the cybercrime law, a legislation guaranteeing internet freedom, and a proposed law that would make the proceedings in bicameral committee hearings of Congress more transparent.

Luis Teodoro, former dean of the University of the Philippines-College of Mass Communications and deputy director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said the petition that they filed together with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Philippine Press Institute and 17 other media organizations and 250 individuals is for the Supreme Court to issue a Certiorari, Prohibition, and Injunction. In other words, they are calling for the repeal of the whole law, which, they said, would result in 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 to vindicate, restore and defend.”

Teodoro added that libel has been used to harass journalists since 1911. He also reminded the group of the so many libel cases filed by Miguel Arroyo, the husband of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to deflect the expose’ of corruption cases that he was being linked to and to harass journalists.

Lawyers Harry Roque and Rommel Bagaras said the petition they filed before the Supreme Court is dedicated to Alex Adonis, a radio broadcaster from Davao City who was jailed after being convicted of libel, which stemmed from a case filed by then Majority Floor Leader Prospero Nograles.

Roque cited a United Nations Human Rights Committee resolution declaring that criminal libel is incompatible with the freedom of expression.

Thus, Roque said, they are working not only for the deletion of the provision on libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 but against the criminalization of libel under Philippine laws.

Blogger Anthony Ian Cruz, in a statement, criticized President Benigno Aquino III for his defense of the controversial law. “We are not amused by President Aquino’s obstinate and remorseless insistence that his new law is constitutional, and most especially his shallow defense of the cyber-libel provision. Maybe because he is the single-biggest beneficiary of this new law – considering that he is onion-skinned when it comes to criticisms.”

Lawyer Julius Matibag, representing the National Union of People’s Lawyers and counsel of Bayan et.al in its petition, said Bayan’s petition impleaded the president and both Houses of Congress for grave abuse of discretion by passing a blatantly unconstitutional law, which affects not only the internet but all other e-communication devices as well such as cell phones.

The group of bloggers under the Philippine Internet Freedom Association, which was represented by its president Red Tani, said their petition centered on the defense of internet freedom.

Joms Salvador of Gabriela said they would also be filing a petition soon. To the Aquino government, she said, “Don’t use the issue of violence against women and children as an excuse to curtail civil liberties.”

“This is a step backwards,” she said. “This would result in the criminalization of the women-victims themselves and not the masterminds of cyberporn and the posting of cybersex videos because they are not easily identifiable. ”

Jaime “Nonoy” Espina of the National Union of Journalists of the revealed that the cybercrime law is just one of three laws, which include the Data Privacy Act and another one to be proposed and passed soon that would shield the government from the watchful eyes of the media and the public.

“After these triumvirate of laws are passed, the Freedom of Information Bill would be useless,” Espina said.

“We do not owe the government our rights. We own those rights. And the cybercrime law is an attack on our rights, on our way of life,” Espina said. “This is a declaration of war by the government.”

“We will not stop until the law is declared unconstitutional and repealed,” the #NotoCybercrimeLaw alliance declared. (Bulatlat.com)

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