(UPDATED 3:00 P.M.) MANILA, Philippines — President Benigno Aquino III has recently signed the cybercrime bill into law, which includes provisions penalizing libel committed online, InterAksyon.com learned Friday.
In a text message, Taguig Rep. Sigfrido Tinga confirmed that Aquino has indeed signed the bill into law on Wednesday. Tinga is the chairman of the House committee on ICT, and one of the proponents of the bill in the lower house.
A copy of the new law is available here.
Tinga, however, confirmed that a controversial provision, which seeks to penalize libel crimes committed through the Internet, has been included in the final version of the bill.
“As per online defamation, there is no specific [clause] but there is Section 6, which is a catch-all provision which states that all crimes defined and penalized under the revised penal code,” he explained.
The particular clause came from the Senate version of the bill, which was authored by Sen. Edgardo Angara.
The provision was met with contention from various camps that said the particular provision would curtail freedom of expression online.
In the Philippines, libel is a criminal offense. This, despite UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) declaration that the Philippine libel law is excessive and incompatible with international human rights law, in a May 2012 post on the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility website (CMFR-phil.org).
Among the offenses punishable under the new Cybercrime law as enumerated in Chapter II of Republic Act No. 10175 include cybersex, child pornography, cybersquatting and identity theft, spamming or unsolicited commercial communication, computer-related forgery, illegal access to a computer system and/or illegal interception of data, data interference, including intentional alteration or damaging of data; system interference, including damaging or altering computer data or programs as well as the use of viruses, the misuse of devices; and the use, production, sale, procurement, importation, distribution or making available without right of malware, passwords or codes.
Violators could face a punishment of prison mayor or reclusion temporal and/or a fine (between P200,000 to P1,000,000) depending on the offense as stated under the new law.
However, in the case of child pornography, punishment will be in accordance enumerated under Republic Act No. 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009. Only this time, the punishment will be a degree higher because the crime was committed using a computer system.
According to Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino, the “killer insertion” of measures penalizing online libel in the Cybercrime bill is prone to abuse and could be used to “censor online content or to harass critics of the government.”
“The bill threatens the free and democratic conversations of online Filipinos,” Palatino stressed. “Indeed, there are hate speeches and malicious statements circulating on the web. But I prefer that we address these issues by educating the public, especially young people, about the need for responsible or ethical behavior while surfing the Web.”
The Cybercrime bill is the second consecutive ICT-related bill signed by the administration into law, following the enactment of the Data Privacy Act in August.
With the passage of the two bills, the only remaining ICT-related measure left in the halls of Congress is the bill creating the Department of ICT. (With additional report from Jing Garcia)