MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker is questioning the inclusion of “online libel” in the proposed cybercrime bill set to be taken up by the House of Representatives on second reading, insisting that Congress needs to tackle the decriminalization of libel instead.
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.”
House Bill No. 5808 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 seeks to penalize, among others, content-related offenses carried out online such as cyber threats — which constitutes any acts threatening the life, security or property of another individual — and cyber defamation — or the maligning or besmirching the name or reputation of another person.
Such acts, under the bill, are punishable with a fine of at least P500,000 but not exceeding P1,000,000.
While Palatino conceded the need for a law that would protect the civil liberties of Filipino Internet users, the youth solon protested against the inclusion of the online libel provision which, he said, was not present in previous versions of the bill.
“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.”
Because the bill includes provisions that would penalize those who committed the offense using an “assumed name,” Palatino said this would not bode well for “critics and dissidents” who feel the need to hide their identities online to protect themselves.
“The bill, if passed into law … can be a weapon of abusive politicians and corrupt corporate bosses against netizens who wanted to expose the truth about their illegal activities,” he added.
Instead of expanding the scope of libel, the lawmaker proposed that “what Congress needs to discuss is the proposal to decriminalize libel.”
The cybercrime measure, deemed a priority bill by the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, is authored by Sigfrido Tinga, Roilo Golez, Susan Yap, Juan Edgardo Angara and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, among others.
The Senate counterpart of the bill, authored by Senator Edgardo Angara, has been passed in third reading last February.