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MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE - 6:07 p.m.) Media organizations on Tuesday condemned the inclusion of libel among the crimes punishable under the newly enacted Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act, with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility saying this could “signal the opening of the floodgates of Internet regulation that will affect Filipino netizens.”
The CMFR said the enactment of RA 10175 as well as that of RA 10173, or the Data Privacy Act, last month “and their immediate signing into law by President Benigno S. Aquino III … suggests how restrictive rather than expansive is the mindset of the country’s legislators, and of Mr. Aquino himself when it comes to enshrining in the law those principles -- accountability and transparency, press freedom and free expression, etc. -- to which he has repeatedly declared he is committed.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, on the other hand, called the signing into law of the Cybercrime Prevention Act “sneaky and betrays this administration’s commitment to transparency and freedom of expression – nil.”
It also warned that the inclusion of libel in the new law “poses a threat not only against the media and other communicators but anyone in the general public who has access to a computer and the Internet.”
Both groups noted how the new law broadened the scope of the country’s more than 80-year old libel law, running counter to the call of the United Nations Human Rights Council for government to review what it has called an “excessive law” and to decriminalize libel.
They also said provisions of the Data Privacy Act further restricted access to information, contrary to the administration’s avowed commitment to transparency.
However, the NUJP predicted that the Philippine press, along with “bloggers, netizens and all those who value freedom of expression” would not stand for any curtailment of freedom of expression and challenged the government to “bring it on.”
“As we have said … time and again, with no fear of being proven wrong … the reason the Philippine press remains free is because Filipino journalists insist it remain so,” it said.
“We are certain bloggers, netizens and all those who value freedom of expression share these sentiments, whatever the Cybercrime Prevention Act says,” it added.
The CMFR, for its part, called on “journalists and bloggers, ordinary citizen and anyone committed to free expression through whatever medium” to remain vigilant and “prepared to combat” any attempts by government to curtail freedom of expression on the Internet.
Both groups noted the apparent haste with which the two measures became laws, with the CMFR saying they “breezed through both houses of Congress within months after they had been introduced in 2011, and apparently were in no danger of being vetoed once they reached Mr. Aquino’s desk.”
In comparison, they noted how the Freedom of Information bill, which would allow the public freer access to government records and which Aquino had time and again touted as a priority measure, stands little chance of passage under the 15th Congress.
The CMFR cited Aquino’s “obvious aversion” to the FOI bill while the NUJP noted how he “never lifted a finger to help shepherd (it) through the legislative mill,” proof, it said, that “this president never meant anything he said with respect to our rights and our freedoms.”
The CMFR noted that, before the enactment of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, “the Philippines had been distinguished among its Asian neighbors for the absence of regulatory legislation affecting the Internet.”