SC tackles cybercrime law, but no TRO

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court failed to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the implementation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, paving the way for its effectivity tomorrow, Wednesday, October 3.

SC insiders told Rappler that the en banc, which met on Tuesday, October 2, tackled the law but the justices decided they needed more time to study it. The justices will deliberate on the matter again next Tuesday, the same insiders said.

Later in the afternoon, the SC issued a statement saying that the Court "did not issue a TRO in the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 petitions which are up for further study."

The statement said that 10 justices were present in Tuesday's en banc were:  Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio  and Justices Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo D. Brion, Martin S. Villarama, Jr., Jose Portugal Perez, Jose Catral Mendoza, Bienvenido L. Reyes, and Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe.

On the other hand, Justices Diosdado M. Peralta, Lucas P. Bersamin, and Mariano C. Del Castillo are abroad on official business, the statement added.

Groups and activists under the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance held a rally in front of the SC building to call on the justices to stop the law's implemention.

At least 7 petitions have been filed with the Court calling on the justices to nullify the law or some of its provisions. The petitioners -- bloggers, artists, journalists, political parties, lawyers, and members of the academe -- argue that the law violates freedom of expression and gives the government too much power over Internet users.

The latest to file a petition on Monday, October 1, were National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, Bayan Muna, Anakbayan and other affiliated organizations. They said the law's provisions penalize online libel and cybercrime through data interference, and grant the Department of Justice (DOJ) the power to shut down sites that contain harmful content based on prima facie evidence.

The DOJ itself had objected to the provisions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act that penalize online libel, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

De Lima earlier told reporters that the DOJ recommended "the deletion of cyberdefamation, cyberthreats and Internet libel," adding that since 2007, when the DOJ first crafted the consolidated cybercrime bill, "Internet libel was never a part of any [of the bill's] versions."

Section 4 (c) 4 of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act includes online libel as a cybercrime. Section 6 states that the penalty for it could be raised to a degree higher; those who committed libel using a "computer system" may stay behind bars from 6 to 12 years. Libel under the Revised Penal Code, on the other hand, is only punishable with imprisonment from 6 months to 4 years.

Sen Teofisto Guingona III, the only senator who did not sign the law, had also asked the Court to nullify the questionable provisions of the law. "With this law, even Mark Zuckerberg, the owner of Facebook, can be charged with cyber-libel!" Guingona said in a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler.

In a statement Tuesday, Guingona said, "I am disappointed that our justices have deferred the hearing of the petitions to next week."

He added: "I respectfully ask the High Tribunal to resolve the issues and act on the petitions immediately to prevent further harm to our cyber users. The implementation of the law tomorrow, October 3 will take back our citizens to the Dark Ages where freedom of speech and expression were not recognized."- Rappler.com