By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
Rene Saguisag, a former senator who writes a column for the “Manila Times,” thinks the outpouring of opposition to the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is over-reaction, a response not proportionate to the threat.
He disagrees with some opposers to the bill comparing Republic Act 10175 to martial law. A victim who battled on the streets against the Marcos-Enrile military regime, Saguisag said they didn’t know how it was.
Today there’s no repression. No libeler is arrested on the basis of the new law. If anyone will be prosecuted, it will first be the hackers who by destructive act of disrupting government websites convinced many people that internet behavior needs to be regulated.
The senator tells protesters to “relak lang.” Maybe because there’s no sign of any crackdown yet and Sen. Eduardo Angara, the law’s principal author, and other senators are willing to amend the law and remove or modify its offensive provisions.
But then isn’t the noise and wrath precisely what has made legislators and Malacañang blink?
Sen. Tito Sotto, who denied in Cebu City he pushed for the internet libel provision but later admitted he did, even offers to decriminalize libel. “If you guys in mainstream media are punished for libel and those in social media are not, I might as well decriminalize all libel.”
Angara, Sotto, and the others must sense how the new media can be devastating to politicians if some sectors in it wish to be mean.
Angara has a son running for the Senate next year. Sotto was badly beaten up on the web for that plagiarism scandal and is being flogged for the internet libel insertion.
They and other politicians are wary, if not scared, and they’re backing down.
At least 10 petitions have been filed with Supreme Court, questioning a number of disputed provisions in R.A. 10175.
The SC may look for a “justiciable” cause: Has anyone been injured by the law, an internet user haled before prosecutors, or his blog or website shut down by DOJ? The tribunal may say, Look, there’s no grievance over a specific act of oppression. Let’s tackle this when the law is actually enforced. There are even no implementing guidelines yet.
Or, recognizing widespread interest in the law, the high court may just wade in to resolve issues of constitutionality, due process of law, and equal protection of the law.
But no need to rush, no imperative for a restraining order.
In the interim, Congress may amend the law and take out objectionable provisions, an appeasement which may reduce opposers’ fury.
Mainstream media has joined petitioners in the SC litigation and has used newspapers and broadcast stations to express opposition to the cybercrime law.
Earlier, it supported moves to remove the jail term as penalty for libel or to decriminalize it altogether. (That’s why the internet libel provision is a shocker: heavier punishment amid media clamor for less stringent sanction is a slap on the face.)
Though regular media is used to the regulation on libel (under the decades-old Revised Penal Code), it is just as distressed over the new application of R.A. 10175 as internet users.
One reason is that most mainstream media outlets are online as well. Their journalists are equally repressed with bloggers, Facebook users, and tweeters. And penalty is one degree higher if print or broadcast material surfaces on the net.
Besides, threat to free speech and free press anywhere assaults freedom of communication everywhere.
While regular media practitioners are used to being sued for libel, they resent and condemn bullies who use it to harass and intimidate.
Most journalists, however, have been taught to be responsible and accountable and when they forget or err, their editors keep them in line: basic preparation and built-in safeguard that, alas, are virtually absent in the wide, wild world of web.
An irony the ongoing protests show: deluge of comments, slanderous or bordering on slander, on authors of the cybercrime law, on top of clearly criminal hacking of state websites, argues strongly for internet regulation.