Cybercrime Prevention Act: an abridgement of freedom of speech


First to be “assaulted” was the judiciary, with the removal of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona through the coercive impeachment power of a pliant Congress.  Next to go was freedom of expression, with the passage of R.A. 10175 — the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (CPA).  I shudder at the thought of what comes next.

If a grim pattern is not emerging, the coincidence is uncanny.  But I’m not yet prepared to “cry wolf.”  I must however point out that while Pres. Aquino is tinkering with the system and the law, the number of Filipinos experiencing hunger keeps rising.  And he’s almost halfway through his 6-year tenure of office.

On the main subject, the CPA aims to combat cyber crimes such as hacking, phishing,  spamming, identity theft, cybersex, online child pornography, etc.  It could have been a good and TIMELY piece of legislation, until some overzealous (some say vengeful) legislators “inserted” provisions that threaten constitutionally guaranteed civil rights to free speech, due process, court-ordered search and seizure procedure, etc.

What a shameful waste of good intentions and taxpayers’ money just to salve the distorted ego of some legislators who can’t stand public scrutiny on social media and blogs! 

The provisions of the CPA that limit free speech is an abridgement of the  freedom of speech guaranteed by the 1987 Philippine Constitution.  If only for this reason, I am of the opinion that the Supreme Court is duty-bound to declare the CPA as unconstitutional, hence unimplementable.  No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech.

But there are other objectionable, if not unconstitutional, provisions contained in the CPA.  For instance, the CPA makes “online libel” punishable both under the existing provisions of the Penal Code and the CPA, but the penalty would be one degree higher (up to a maximum of 12 years of imprisonment).  This vagueness, if not contradiction, in the wordings of the CPA renders its implementation problematic and may require amending one or both of the two laws.

Section 9 of the CPA authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) to restrict access to/take down Internet sites and computer data without the need for the DOJ to secure a court order — this is a warrantless search and seizure procedure prohibited by the “due process” provisions of the Constitution.  Does it mean that the owner of the “suspected” site/data can be arrested without a court-ordered warrant of arrest?

Section 5 punishes any person who aids or abets the commission of any cybercrime.  This could mean that the mere act of “liking” or “retweeting” a Facebook or Twitter message found libelous by the government may land one in jail.

Based on the wordings of Section 3, mobile and smart phones would fall in the category of ICT (information and communications technology) media/devices regulated by the law.  This could mean too that a heated argument through texting may result in a court case and either one of the texting parties landing in jail.  Similarly, a joke text message about a certain person may elicit laughter, but it may also get the practical joker in deep trouble.

Pres. Aquino worries about being impeached if he doesn’t implement the CPA.  Perhaps he should worry too about the snowballing people’s opposition to the CPA.  A raging snowball has the nasty nature of bulldozing anything and everything on its path.

Author:  Rene “RC” Catacutan
Published  07 October 2012



 Related photos

Facebook protest photo

My Facebook Timeline protest background

Protest against the CPA

Sen. Teofisto Guingona III — the lone senator who voted against the CPA

Sen. Edgardo Angara — the principal author of the CPA

Sen. Vicente Sotto III — inserted the libel provisions in the CPA

Pres. Benigno Aquino III

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona

Former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez