Making sure we got the President correctly on internet libelThis is what President Aquino said at the forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association in the Philippines Wednesday on internet libel in the Cybercrime Law which he signed last Sept. 12:
Question: My question is in regards to Cybercrime Law. Just in regards to your mantra under your term to improve human rights in the Philippines. How does opening the past and allowing people to be jailed for posting defamatory comments online improve human rights situation in the Philippines?
Aquino: Well, can I just state for the record: as the Chief Executive of this land when the proposed measure was brought before me, I had basically two options. Under the Constitution, if I agree with the same I sign it into law. If I disagree with the same, I veto everything. I cannot… I only have a line veto on the budget measure. I don’t have a line veto on other measures.
So if I really failed to sign the law then the provisions on identity fraud or to prevent identity fraud, the porn, the other aspects sought to be penalized by this law would have been left again in limbo.
Can I just give you an example? We have an Anti-wire Tapping Act. I think it’s Republic Act 4200 crafted sometime in the early ‘60s. It contains… It defines how do you–the devices that you can use; how do you commit the crime. Unfortunately, most of the enumerated methods of wiretapping no longer exist and perhaps those of us who are younger in this room will not even know what a “dictaphone” is. But it’s like a type of items that are in the law but not necessarily existing in reality.
In fact, our jurisprudence says that unless there’s a physical wire that you actually tap into then you cannot be guilty of wiretapping or illegal wiretapping. We now have the internet. My position is simple: When I read the law and I read it, I think, three times on the proposed measure it just said that there’s an existing provision on libel in the Revised Penal Code.
And libel through print should–a libelous statement in print that is sanctioned should also be a libelous statement in the broadcast media, should also–if it is still same statement existing on the net should also still be libelous. There shouldn’t be an exemption if—based on what format.
Now, the issue is increased penalties, etcetera, the arbitrary closing, etcetera. The IRR, the implementing rules and regulations have to be crafted and actually we can solicit especially for those who are reasonable individuals to perfect that which is made by an imperfect being which is man.
So we are open to having amendments to it. The Executive’s functions is to enforce the law. We cannot choose not to enforce a law that is existing. So how does it—can I just finish? How does it enhance? We are taught, when we were in the elementary, we all have freedom of speech but our freedoms or all our rights are also guided by the rights of others.
When they impinge on the rights of others then there are practical limitations. The oft-cited example when you’re in a movie house, you don’t have the freedom of speech to say that there’s a fire when there is (-unclear-). So I think the discourse should also be cognizant of the rights of all parties and not just that of the blogger.
Q: And in regards to the penalties, are you personally in favor people being jailed for defamation or libel with regards on the internet or in print? Should that be a criminal offense or should it just be as in the US and other major countries a civil problem?
Aquino: I’m divided between sometimes the personal side and the public side. I think I fully subscribed to the idea of decriminalizing it…but not lessening the atmosphere to encourage irresponsibility in certain quarters.
Q: So you are personally in favor of decriminalizing (libel)?
Q: Sir, good morning. Manny Mogato from Reuters. Sir, just a quick follow up on Carl’s question. Is this not an attempt by government to put the genie back in the bottle by reining in attempt online freedom of expression?
Aquino: I’m sorry, can you repeat the question?
Q: Sir, is this not an attempt by government to curtail freedom of expression by putting in the libel provision in the Cybercrime Law?
Aquino: Putting in the libel provision is not an accurate statement. It just states that under the Revised Penal Code, postings on the net are also subject to that provision. I think, the number is Section 3, 5—or something like that, ano. It’s already existing. So do we want to curtail freedom of speech? You, I think, will be one of the primary witnesses of how pervasive freedom of speech is in this country. So I think that’s an invalid question.
Q: OK. Sir, my question is on the…
Aquino: Sandali lang, ano. It’s not an urgent bill. It didn’t come from us, ano, although our law enforcement agencies were saying that there is difficulty when they arrest people engaged in fraud or, in particular, we have been deporting hundreds of people engaged in cybercrimes especially in internet fraud.
I’m not sure if I got the President correctly: he is for decriminalizing libel even on online postings.
If I got him correctly, well and good.
The President’s advisers should tell him that the Philippines is signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.”
It further states that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek,receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
When Davao-based journalist, Alexander Adonis (our co-petitioner against the Cybercrime Law) brought his case of having been imprisoned for libel before the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 2008, the UNHCR declared that the imprisonment imposed on Adonis for libel under the Revised Penal Code is “incompatible with Article 19, paragraph three of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
We would like to think that Aquino was not adequately briefed by his legal advisers on the ICCPR when he signed the law. We welcome his openness to having the law amended.