The petitioners, however, warned against toning down on protests and vigilance regarding the new law as a result of the TRO, stressing that the SC has yet to make comments on the merit of the controversial measure.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously voted for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the enforcement of the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act for 120 days.
“We call on our colleagues in the media, free expression advocates, human rights activists and the general public to remain vigilant until this repressive law is finally junked,” said the National Union of Journalists (NUJP) in a statement. NUJP is one of the petitioners against the Cybercrime law.
The group said the 120-day TRO has provided a “brief respite” from the implementation of the law, but stressed: “The protests must continue.”
The Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA), one of the more active groups rallying netizens online and offline against the Cybercrime law, also called for Filipinos to “protect this temporary victory.”
“Even as the Supreme Court ruled to suspend the implementation of the law, it can still choose to lift the TRO in the future under pressure from anti-democratic forces who want to see the Cybercrime Prevention Act implemented,” the group said.
“We cannot let this happen,” it added.
Meanwhile, a newly formed group called Bloggers and Netizens for Democracy (BAND) touted the SC’s TRO a “bad omen” for President Benigno Aquino III, who insisted last week that the highly contentious libel provision should stay in the Cybercrime law.
“This is a bad omen for President Aquino who is remorseless, arrogant and unrepentant about the law he signed,” said Anthony Ian Cruz, one of the convenors of BAND.
BAND is also calling for the resignation of Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima, whom it described as a “rights champion” who should be joining the protests against the law instead of implementing it.
“While we can only surmise the unspeakable pressure bearing upon her to implement the law, we believe that Secretary de Lima knows where her heart lies,” the group said.
Push for amendments continues
While the high court’s TRO effectively suspends implementation of the new law until the body decides on its constitutionality, PIFA said citizens should not waver in pressuring lawmakers to actively work on the amendments to the measure’s contentious provisions.
PIFA is one of the social media groups actively monitoring legislators’ stance on the Cybercrime Law.
“We demand that [lawmakers] junk RA 10175 and start the process of crafting a new law that involves the participation of all stakeholders – whether offline or online,” the group said.
If the calls are left unheeded, PIFA urged citizens to wield their constitutionally guaranteed tool against erring elected officials: the power of the vote.
“Let us make them feel that we will not elect, tolerate, and bow down to anyone who has no qualms in trampling upon our basic human rights offline and online,” the group stressed.
Legislators in both houses of Congress, meanwhile, pushed for amendments to the bill as well as the passage of the measure decriminalizing libel as some await instructions from the high court regarding its decision on the Cybercrime law.
Lawmakers who want the bill amended — such as Senators Pia Cayetano and TG Guingona, as well as Rep. Raymond Palatino — welcomed the TRO issued by the Supreme Court against the implementation of the law as they join the calls for continued protests.
Cayetano, who voted for the passage of the bill in the Senate but is now calling for amendments to it, said the TRO opens a “window of opportunity” for legislators to revisit the law and check its merits.
“These efforts should go hand-in-hand with deliberations on a related matter, the decriminalization of libel,” she added. Cayetano has already filed her version of the law decriminalizing libel.
Guingona, one of the staunch advocates against the Cybercrime law and is the only Senator who voted against it in the upper house, meanwhile stressed that “the fight isn’t over.”
“Now, we must escalate our vigilance, keep the fire burning, and continue the fight for our fundamental rights. The fight of the people, on the streets and online, must continue,” he said.
In the same vein, Kabataan Partylist’s Palatino called on netizens to ensure that the contentious provisions of the law are “expunged with finality.”
“This is an opportunity for the Palace to retract its hardline position on the issue, as we now have tangible proof that several of the law’s provisions are unconstitutional and post threats to our countrymen’s civil liberties,” Palatino added.
Lawmakers await SC decision
But amendatory bills, at least in the upper house, will have to take a backseat for now until the Supreme Court issues a decision regarding what provisions in the law will be stricken down, at least according to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.
“In my case, I would suggest that we wait for the Supreme Court to make a decision so that we will know what defects that they want us to correct,” Enrile said in an interview with reporters.
Senator Edgardo Angara, the chief architect of the controversial law in the Senate, agreed with the veteran lawmaker, saying that Congress should hold back on any amendments to the law for now until the final arbiter issues a decision.
“Out of respect for the Supreme Court,” Angara said, “we must hold any action here in Congress while the SC is deciding.
The brief lull, Angara noted, will give both sides of the issue — particularly critics of the law — time to think about the issues they are trying to raise.
“[The TRO] will give time to the SC to study the merits and give also the critics time to reexamine their position because I think that they’re just contemplating on a few provisions of the law that they think are harmful to them,” he said.