The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, also known as Republic Act 10175, may aim to bring crime-fighting into the 21st century by addressing harmful acts committed with the use of the worldwide web but it raises the risk of rights violations and curtailment of freedom of expression and of the press by expanding the concept of the criminalized act of libel. The law also raises the penal sentence for libel committed in cyberspace one year longer than that imposed in the Revise Penal Code for libel in general. It is highly advisable that the imperfections in the law, the provisions that conflict with other aspects of good governance and national and international obligations, be corrected soon through amendments. Strong leadership does not shirk from acknowledging the need to revise and strengthen policy and law. The calls for amendment should not be seen as personal attacks on anyone’s character or effectiveness. UN scrutiny
This law was enacted just as the Philippines is about to face scrutiny by human rights experts in the UN Human Rights Committee on its civil and political rights situation (on October 13). Only a few months ago, the Committee, which monitors the compliance of states parties with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), cited the Philippines for imprisoning a journalist under the RPC libel provision as being inconsistent with the ICCPR’s provision on freedom of expression. The government had just recently had to defend and explain the country’s civil and political rights record before lawmakers in the US and civil and political rights were a main area of inquiry in May when the country underwent the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council. Rather than expanding the number of acts and ways in which a person could be imprisoned and criminally charged for libel, the Philippines has been urged for several years to decriminalize libel. In addition to the libel provision, there are other provisions that are inconsistent with rights standards such as the lack of clear limits on the initial fact gathering by investigators – will they look into our private correspondence and posts including email as they search for possible libellous statements or pornographic material? The authority given to the Department of Justice to block access to sites at an early stage is a gray area, which could impinge on rights to property and right to information in addition to freedom of expression and of the press. Remember the criticism over the blocking of access to certain sites by the Chinese government around the Beijing Olympics. 'Decriminalization of defamation'
The Office of the President has replied to the outcry against the libel provision in the new law by saying that freedom comes with responsibility. Yes, and, indeed we all have responsibilities to respect the rights of others and the press is obliged to observe professional ethical standards, but the regulation of freedom, in order to impose responsibility and order, should not cross the line into curtailment of the freedom or creating an environment in which such rights cannot be fully and equally enjoyed. While the Convention does allow sovereign governments to regulate freedom of expression, such regulation should be done in a way that does not curtail the freedom. The Committee further elaborates in General Comment No. 34 (2011), “States parties should consider the decriminalization of defamation and, in any case, the application of the criminal law should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases and imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty.” Among the ironies of the relatively quick passage of this legislation and the timing thereof: 1. It is not compliant with the ICCPR, which was ratified by President Corazon C. Aquino, after decades of non-ratification by President Ferdinand Marcos; 2. It was signed by President Benigno S. Aquino III days before the country marked the 40th anniversary of the declaration...
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