Petitioners to ask SC for extension of Cybercrime Law TRO beyond Feb 6

MANILA, Philippines — Pressed for time, petitioners arguing against the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 will ask the Supreme Court to extend its 120-day temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing the implementation of the measure, which would expire on February 6.

In a meeting held at the University of the Philippines in Diliman on January 10, petitioners pointed out that time is not on their side as the SC could take all the time they want before issuing a decision on their oral arguments, which is scheduled on January 15.

Hihingi kami na ma-extend indefinitely ang TRO (We’re going to ask for the TRO be extended indefinitely),” said lawyer Harry Roque, one of the petitioners assigned to argue against the most controversial provision on the Cybercrime law, that of Section 4 which penalizes cyber libel. Roque has also been assigned to separately argue on the issue of cybersex.

“We’ll ask for the extension until such time that the SC has released a decision on the merits [of the arguments],” he added.

Roque said the high court is not mandated to immediately issue a decision on any case, pointing out that SC decisions could take years, if not decades, to materialize.

“This is where the people would come in. Pagkatapos ng TRO, puwede nang mangdampot [ng violators] (Right after the TRO, violators can now be arrested). Diyan papasok ang komunidad, dahil hindi gagalaw ang institusyon kung hindi kinakalampag ng taumbayan (That’s where the community comes in, the institution will not move if the public is not mobilized),” he said, adding that it is the pressure from the people and petitioners that practically forced the SC to issue a TRO back in October.

Right now, the high court’s TRO is all that’s preventing the executive branch from implementing the law, which many pundits have pointed out has the potential to alter the Internet landscape in the Philippines.

Legislative option is dead

Pressuring the SC to issue a decision immediately is the only recourse petitioners and most Filipino Internet users have now to prevent the implementation of the law, considering that the opportunity to amend the law in Congress has already passed.

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino, who was also present during the meeting, said the amendatory bills filed in the lower house of Congress are as good as dead since they will only have nine session days after the resumption of session on January 21 to tackle them.

“Unless these bills are certified as urgent by the President, which I doubt, malabo nang mapasa itong (it’s unlikely to pass the) amendatory provisions,” Palatino said. “Congress did not deem it as a priority, and at the same time they were never tackled at the committee level.”

The young solon said the House leadership did not bother to even schedule a committee hearing for the bills considering that they center on an issue of national importance, dismissing claims that Congress had its hands tied with other priority measures.

The least they could do once session resumes, he said, is to introduce the bills tackling Internet freedom for the benefit of the next Congress.

But while the legislative option is dead, other avenues are still available for the people to exhaust, other petitioners said. On Thursday, various groups including Kabataan Partylist, Anakbayan, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and other UP groups launched a broad alliance that would be leading mobilizations and other activities in the run up to the oral arguments on Tuesday.

On January 11, the group will launch the “Black Friday Against Cybercrime,” and local mobilizations will be held in schools and communities on this day. Also, black profile pictures and cover photos will again fill cyberspace.

On January 14, a vigil will be held in front of the Supreme Court, spearheaded by campus journalists under the College Editors Guild of the Philippines.

The anti-Cybercrime Law mobilization will climax on January 15, wherein thousands of protesters are set to gather in Padre Faura to express opposition to Republic Act 10175.

Anthony Ian Cruz, one of the petitioners and an Internet freedom advocate, has also called on the high court to livestream the proceedings so as more stakeholders — particularly Internet users — can participate.