Republic Act 10175, signed by the President into law a week ago, lists “punishable acts” related to hacking, “misuse of devices”, frauds and cons, spam, and pornography (specifically child porn and “cybersex”). But what alarms bloggers and Internet-based news outlets most is a section that includes libel as one of the punishable “content-related” offenses: “Section 4 (4) Libel – The unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.” Libel is defined in Art. 353 as the “public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonour, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.” This definition of libel is rather vague and subjective to begin with; and as usual with lawmakers, as a former congressman explained to me, they add all sorts of catch-all phrases to cover the possible situations that might arise in relation to that law. So libel and defamation cases hinge on either side’s claim of what is “malicious”, “vice”, “defect”, “dishonour”, the definition of keywords such as “privacy,” and so on. (There is also the matter of the libel provision being inserted after the bill passed the Senate, when this is not allowed after the second reading. That was illegal to begin with.) As a writer being regularly published in several newspapers, I have to be cognizant of libel laws. As far as I can recall, I was told in j-school at the University of the Philippines that criticism of public figures is not libellous as long as it is directed to their actions in their capacities as such. Bloggers are, in effect, self-published writers, who in the main have not taken a mandatory class in the law of the mass media. And with the freedom to publish afforded...
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