SC TRO: a very much welcome respiteSmiles, laughter and relief suddenly replaced the atmosphere of anger and outrage among rallyists when the information from inside the Supreme Court was shared that the justices unanimously voted to issue a 120-day temporary restraining order (TRO) on Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
“We did it!”, enthused one rallyist.
Yes, another demonstration of the power of a vigilant public. A total of 15 petitions were filed with the Supreme Court questioning the legality of some provisions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, particularly the part on online libel.
The 120-day TRO gives us respite and should allow us to celebrate Christmas with lesser stress. That should give us time to recharge when the battle resumes. The SC will hold oral arguments on the controversial law on January 15, 2013.
As the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, reminded everyone, “The battle to defend our basic rights is far from over” until the High Court renders a final decision declaring the law null and unconstitutional and the legislators pass a law decriminalize libel.
Harry Roque of the Center for International Law and the Media Defense Southeast Asia, our counsels for our petition against the law hailed the TRO “as a big victory for freedom of expression.”“While not yet a declaration that the law is unconstitutional, the TRO nonetheless is judgment by the Court that the enforcement of the law is a matter of extreme urgency and that the applicant/petitioners will suffer grave injustice and irreparable injury as a result of its enforcement. It hence validates petitioners argument that prima facie, the law, which limits freedom of expression on the internet, does not enjoy the presumption of constitutionality.”
Roque asked the citizenry to remain vigilant as the challenge today is to make the TRO permanent by convincing the Court to declare it unconstitutional. “We hope the DOJ and the authors of the law will take heed and forthwith repeal the law even before the Court issues a final verdict on the merits,” he added.
Sen. TJ Guingona, the only senator who opposed the Cybercrime law hailed also the TRO as “the first victory of the people and of freedom of expression.”
He noted that for a court to issue a TRO unanimously is a strong message of its belief that the dangers and fears of the people are real and must be addressed. “With this TRO, the tyrannical powers granted by the law are effectively clipped, “he said even as he cautioned that “the fight is not over.”
The victory is shared by an international organization, Human Rights Watch. Brad Adams, HRW Asia director, said the SC “should now go further by striking down this seriously flawed law.”
Adams said if Congress wants to have a law governing online activity, it should ensure that such a law will not infringe on civil liberties, human rights, the Constitution and the Philippines’s obligations under international law. All provisions in Philippine law that allow for imprisonment for peaceful expression should be repealed. Congress should also ensure that any discussion on proposed laws be done in a transparent manner.”That’s an appropriate reminder because in forum yesterday organized by the Department of Justice, Taguig (2nd district) Rep. Freddie Tinga, one of the authors of the House version of the cybercrime bill said he was against the inclusion of online libel even when they were still deliberating the bill.
He said that it was only at the bicameral committee that the online libel provision was included.
Earlier Senators Francis Escudero and Ferdinand Marcos Jr admitted that they were remiss in not noticing that offensive provision .Escudero has a pending bill decriminalizing libel and yet he signed a law making penalty for online libel heavier than libel in print and broadcast media.
It doesn’t speak well of the quality of our legislators who have been elected to pass laws that would protect, and not trample on, the rights of the people.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and other officials of the DOJ, under which a Cybercrime office has been set up to implement the law, are also being presumptuous in allaying the concerns of the public on the repressive law with statements that they would be judicious in their implementation of the law. How long are they going to stay in that position as implementor of a defective law? Don’t they realize that they can be removed anytime? Why are they giving false assurances to the public?
Their call for the public’s cooperation in crafting the Implementing Rules and Regulation is another trick because they should know that the IRR cannot cure a defective law.
Junk R.A 10175!