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MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 7:53 PM) He has been quiet since the firestorm over the Cybercrime Prevention Act that he authored broke over two weeks ago, but on Wednesday Sen. Edgardo J. Angara declared he will file an amendatory bill on the law’s most contentious provisions, especially the takedown of web sites, to prove the proponents had no intent to harm civil liberties while ridding the Internet of criminals.
Angara said he will file an amendatory bill when Congress resumes session on Oct. 8 to modify Section 19 of the Cybercrime Prevention Law, even as he defended its overall intent to establish a rules-based framework in cyberspace in order to promote business and purge the Internet of criminals while enabling free discourse.
In a roundtable talk after he accompanied his son, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, in filing the latter’s Certificate of Candidacy for senator at the Comelec, the older Angara said he will rush an amendatory bill on the powers of the Department of Justice to restrict and block access to netizens on the basis simply of a prima facie finding that crimes were committed under the new law.
“I will file an amendatory bill on Monday to include the principle of search and seizure order under the Constitution,” Angara said. By this he meant that the constitutional requirement of a court order authorizing a search and seizure will be explicitly mandated by the amended law.
However, he clarified that under Section 19 -- one of at least five provisions that have drawn the harshest criticism from lawyers, journalists and free-expression advocates -- the DOJ can only restrict and block access to a particular website where the alleged crime happened “only …. with a court order.” That requirement is not found in the provision, sparking one of the most serious attacks on RA 10175.
Appeal to de Lima
With this, Angara also asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to suspend or withhold the implementation of Section 19 until the Supreme Court has resolved at least eight petitions filed against the law, and until Congress has passed the amendatory bill.
He said, under the lawmaking process, Congress can ask the implementing agency of a particular law to suspend the implementation of a certain provision deemed objectionable, or unconstitutional, until such remedy has been done on such item.
“Yes, we can ask them, I hope Secretary De Lima is reading or watching this, she should suspend or withhold the implementation of the contested provision,” he said.
Intent of Section 19
Angara stressed that for all the flak the law had drawn, “I don’t want to give the impression that I’m now shifting the blame to anyone. No. I will own sole responsibilty for it because I was the one who put it all together and gathered all the inputs from all, from what I believe are responsible, reasonable people.”
Angara also provided, for the first time, a glimpse into the supposed intent of the bill’s sponsors for Section 19.
“Yung power sa DOJ, yung tinatawag na ‘take down provision’ na in case a website has been hacked or been attacked or has been converted to the use of an evil doer, then the DOJ has power to close it down---I didn’t put this particular provision,” he said, alluding to Sec. 19.
However, the actual phrasing of the law does not in any way reflect this intention to remedy a situation where a site has been “hacked or attacked or been converted to the use of an evil doer.” The section simply, vaguely, empowers DOJ to use its takedown power on a prima facie finding that the cybercrime law has been violated, critics have said. Other legal experts have said such power is beyond the pale of the DOJ.
Angara clarified he was “not shying off from taking responsibility” for the controversial provision, even as he described himself as the mere “consolidator” of the ideas of several sponsors, naming Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV among them.
“But I think nga this [Sec. 19] needs some improvement and what I will propose is that DOJ can only do that upon a court order. In the same case that you can only arrest or seize or . . . like a warrant . . . not just a prima facie but a probable cause.
“So I will import the principles of search warrant and arrest into this thing and I will do that...that amendatory bill,” said Angara.
‘Having law in place still necessary’
For all the flak it has drawn for infringing basic civil liberties, Angara insisted that RA 10175 was still necessary in order to regulate what he described as a wild frontier in cyberspace---and to run after criminals who are using the internet for nefarious activities.
“I think we ought to put this law in perspective. I think we’re much better off with the cyberlaw in operation rather than have a cyberspace without one. Otherwise, we will be operating in a large, large universe without rules. It will be like an open frontier, a wild wild west of sorts, that anything goes. I don’t think that’s how civilization grows. Because there are rules, honestly agreed upon and people abide by.”
He pointed to the “massive attacks on websites of government” as one “proof that we need a law like this.”
“And that’s just the government. How about the banks, the financial institutions that will be hacked and will be penetrated because we are one of 10 countries in Asia Pacific that are a favorite target; we’re a hot spot because we lack the legal framework on the use of the Internet,” Angara said.
He rationalized the law as “an attempt to create a rules-based, a legal framework on how to expand the use of the Internet, without any social and economic harm to others.” There’s a crying need, he said, “to expand the scope and the use of the Internet because that is the global trend,” and cited the rising role of e-commerce in many sectors. “We need e-commerce to make our government more effective and more efficient. We need e-learning to deliver a mass educational system.”
Meanwhile, he justified the inclusion of a provision on online libel, saying there was a need to reflect the fact that whereas before it could be committed through “print or oral, [now] it’s in the internet as well.” He echoed the view of other senators who voted for the law that since libel is still in the statute books, i.e., the Revised Penal Code, there was no reason to exempt one medium from it.
“Why not? You mean the cyberspace is a zone of impunity [where] you can now begin to lambast maliciously without fear of any sanction at all? I don’t think that will promote our civilization and the use of the Internet. That’s never been the intent.”
He acknowledged, however, that lawmakers were put in a quandary with libel’s inclusion in 10175 because they have a pending bill decriminalizing libel, and the worldwide trend is to decriminalize libel and defamation. The bill is in the Justice and Human Rights committee chaired by Sen. Chiz Escudero, who on Tuesday filed a bill amending 10175 by deleting the libel provision or Sec. 4. Still, other senators, notably Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, have said the better tack is to speed up the bill decriminalizing libel, in order to knock it off across all mediums or platforms.
Angara also said he had “a hard time rationalizing in my own mind” the tougher penalty imposed on online libel compared to print, but hazarded a guess nonetheless: possibly because “in the case of a cyberlibel, you don’t know where the libel or malicious utterances come from---because the secret of the Internet is that you can use it anonymously and almost anywhere in the world. So I guess, because it’s a new weapon, [it’s like an] aggravating circumstance [to use the] Internet.” Still, he conceded, “I have very serious doubts about that particular point.”