Tuesday, October 9, 2012

TRO on RA 10175: Upholding People's Freedom of Opinion and Expression in the Internet

The Philippine Supreme Court issues a Temporary Restraining Order on Republic Act 10175 suspending the implementation of the law for 120 days until some of the controversial issues are resolved. Relative to the TRO, a total of 15 petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court. The petitioners stated that the law violated people’s constitutional rights on freedom of speech, equal protection of the law, right to privacy, illegal searches and seizures and double jeopardy.                                                                                                             

RA 10175 received protests and criticism from different sectors because of provisions giving power to the Secretary of Justice to block access to computer data even without a court order when there is prima facie evidence that the law is violated. Another controversial provision is the inclusion of libel which gives the offender one degree higher punishment than those who commit it through the traditional media. Libel is already covered by the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines.

Senator Edgardo Angara, the principal sponsor of the bill that becomes the law defended his position on the libel provision saying that online libel is given harsher penalty because of the speed of publication in the internet, and that online information covers a much larger area with just a click of a mouse than one that is published in the traditional media.  However, the probability is that outside the Philippines, except perhaps for the President of the Philippines and Manny Pacquiao and few others, the names of politicians who could be the subject of libelous posts might not ring a bell to other nationalities. People from other countries will most likely not click on posts they come across which contain names of people they do not know. Posts on Justin Bieber or on phenomena like flood, tsunami will by far get more views than those about wrongdoings by local Philippine politicians. Articles on local Philippine public officials that are in the internet will be most likely confined to viewers who are Filipinos or Filipinos living abroad.

In this contemporary time, people are living in a high tech world. They could transmit communications such as letters, news and videos in the internet that could reach the far corners of the world in real time.  For this reason, newspapers and other publications are disseminated both online and the traditional media. Even local newspapers which only a decade ago were available only in hard copies have now their online version.     

The internet is a molder of public opinion in this present day and age. The spread of the Arab Spring revolution was in a way facilitated by the users’ posts on Facebook and Twitter. In the Philippines, online newspaper commenters, bloggers and Facebook and Twitter users helped fan the negative sentiments against former chief Justice Renato Corona so that he became a very unpopular public figure during the height of his impeachment proceedings. It cannot be said though that the senators were influenced by public opinion when they rendered their guilty verdict on him.

President Aquino has for his slogan “matuwid na daan” or the straight path. And one of the advocacies of his government is to eliminate or minimize graft and corruption. The internet can be one of his effective platforms to convey his message or carry out his endeavors. Excesses and corruption committed by public officials can be dealt with by exposing them through the internet.

It is a good thing that the Supreme Court has issued a Temporary Restraining Order on the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act which is enacted at a time when the international trend is to decriminalize libel. Although people should be held accountable for doing irresponsible acts online, their freedom of expression should be upheld. The showing of the controversial YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims” caused destruction of properties and lives of Americans including that of Ambassador  J. Christopher Stevens. However, the US government did not force YouTube to take the offensive video off the internet because of the people’s right to freedom of expression and opinion.

Legislators should heed the lawful and reasonable demand of the people especially if it involves the latter’s rights and freedoms that are provided for in the constitution. The lawmakers are after all the servants and representative of the people who should perform their duties according to the people’s will. The people, after all, have the final say on the elective officials’ retention in office or their dismissal from it.    

Related post:
Uproar over Philippine RA 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act)