By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL and JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Kenneth Pua, 15, a third year high school student, treats social networking site Facebook like a friend. He confides all his sentiments about varying concerns – from personal to national issues.
“If the Cybercrime law will take effect, that friend will be taken away from us,” Pua said, expressing concern regarding the criminalization of online libel, “Many Facebook users are minors. What if we are sanctioned because of libel for posting against government policies? Are we going to end up in prison?”
Pua joined the protest action along P. Faura in Manila, just a few steps away from the Supreme Court, on Jan. 15, where he and other netizens and activists asked the high court to extend the temporary restraining order and, eventually, junk Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
The Cybercrime law has been met with protests since its enactment last year. There were 15 petitions filed before the Supreme Court, questioning the constitutionality of the law. The petitioners said the Cybercrime law is a clear threat to the people’s freedom of expression, a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution.
Protesters wore black shirts to show that they are against the law.
Stand against Cybercrime law
Various progressive groups joined the protest action at the Supreme Court on the first day of the oral arguments against the Cybercrime law. They expressed that they are confident that the TRO will be extended and, eventually, the law would be junked.
In a statement, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said case will be “seen as another test of independence for the High Court.” Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Serreno, who was appointed by Aquino, replaced Renato Corona who was removed from the position early 2012.
“Our lawyers have prepared the best they could and we are confident they would be able to argue the main points of our opposition to the law. Supporting them are netizens, journalists, civil libertarians, computer professionals and activists who are opposed to Aquino’s cybercrime law,” Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bayan, said.
Reyes added that, “we are also hopeful that the SC will extend the TRO indefinitely, until the court decides with finality on the constitutionality of the cybercrime law.”
Five lawyers – Harry Roque, Jose Jesus Disini Jr., Neri Javier Colmenares, Julius Matibag and Rodel Cruz
– presented their arguments for the petitioners before the justices of the Supreme Court.
“Their answer to internet freedom is more repression,” Reyes said, “From taking down websites, monitoring traffic data and imposing stiffer penalties, this law is truly repressive and tramples on protected free speech and the right to privacy.”
“The anti-cybercrime law will not in any way protect women and children from the violence perpetrated online. President Aquino and the backers of the cybercrime law should stop using violence against women as an excuse to implement the repressive cybercrime law,” Gabriela said in a statement.
Gabriela representatives Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus hopes that Congress will, instead, seek to amend the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act (RA 9262) to include violence against women perpetrated online.
“Its purported objective of addressing cyber-sex or cyber prostitution is quashed by the fact that it is also anti-women in perpetuating the erroneous definition of prostitution in the revised penal code, which treats prostituted women as criminals and not as victims of poverty and social inequities,” De Jesus said.
Akapbata Partylist, for its part, said the law will also curtail the freedom of every Filipino child to have free and safe access to the internet.
In a statement, they cited Cartoon Network’s New Generation 2012’s study that states that 58 percent of Filipino children are playing online games and 52 percent are using social networking sites. In the same research, it states that 82 percent of Filipino children have access to the internet at least once a week and 37 percent access it daily.
“The Cybercrime Prevention Law clearly aims to gag netizens and not to ensure children’s safety against cybersex offenders. It is very obvious that the law is hiding in the guise of child protection but the truth is that it is aimed at pacifying dissent aired by Filipino netizens,” Love Carlos, national spokesperson of Akap Bata Partylist, said.
Some students skipped classes last Tuesday to attend the protest action near Supreme Court. Elaine Jacob, 18, a second year literature student at the Philippine Normal University, told Bulatlat.com she would “rather skip one day than to lose our freedom of expression forever if this law would be passed.”
Of all the provisions of the Cybercrime law, she said, she is particularly concerned with online libel.
“As a campus journalist, we too will be affected if this law would be passed. Before, we can freely use Facebook to share our stories against tuition and other fee increases and other student issues, but if the law would be passed, we cannot do that anymore,” Elaine, who is also the news editor of the PNU’s student publication Torch, said.
Elaine fears that with the Cybercrime law, the use of social media sites for posting stories that criticizes various government policies will not just be prohibited but they would also be criminally liable. So when it took effect in Oct. 2012, she became more cautious in posting comments and articles in her Facebook account.
It was only when a TRO was granted that she felt a sense of relief. “Thanks to the many petitioners who bombarded the Supreme Court with petitions against the Cybercrime law, a TRO was granted.”
Students Pua and Spencer Delifino, 16, also became cautious in posting in their social networking sites. But that did not deter them from doing something against it offline. They were among the students who joined the protest near the Supreme Court.
“In our school we cannot just express our sentiments over lack of facilities, books. It is only in the internet that we can express and expose as well our situation in public schools. We do not want that to be taken away from us,” Spencer said.
Georal Albana, 15, who is also on his third year in high school, said he continues to use his social networking sites, even with the Cybercrime law in effect.
“I still post what I know is the only right thing to post. Internet is also a tool to expose (wrongdoings). Will there be any difference (to the system) if I stopped from posting?” Albana told Bulatlat.com.
Kayumanggi Garduce, 15, said the Cybercrime law will keep them from expressing their disgust over the education system in the Philippines.
“This law is not for the people. It only intends to protect government officials in higher positions. If this law will be implemented, then who else will criticize them?” Shiela, 17, a first year political science student from the University of the Philippines – Manila, said.
Lawyer and Kabataan Party-list first nominee Terry Ridon explained that the law does not target real cybercrimes like hacking and identity theft. “This RA 10175 is targeting our rights, if the law takes effect by February, it would greatly benefit the ruling clique – Aquino’s kamag-anak, kaklase, kabarilan (relative, classmate, shooting buddy)” in the upcoming national elections.”
He added that with a law designed to silence the genuine opposition, Aquino’s clique could easily peddle lies during the elections.
Anakbayan national chairman Vencer Crisostomo also noted that the Cybercrime law could even be deadlier as the campaign period draws closer. “The Cybercrime law gives both the DOJ and the administration too much power. At a time when political criticism and engagement is needed, the government can effectively eliminate a large part of our democratic space. Elections are supposed to be a time for democratic participation; this E-Martial Law does the opposite.”
“Through a nationwide protest, the youth will show the Aquino regime our vehement opposition to his E-Martial Law,” Ridon said.