Red light to cybercrime law in the Philippines
By Flavia Fascendini for APCNews
ARGENTINA, 11 February 2013
February started with good news not only for Filipino citizens but for people and organisations of all countries as well. A proposed law threatening fundamental freedoms, said to be the most opposed in the history of the Philippines, was put on hold. On February 5, 2013 the Supreme Court extended until further notice the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued on the implementation of the controversial Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
“(The) TRO (on the) cybercrime case (is) extended until further orders from court,” said the Supreme Court Public Information Office in a message to journalists. The indefinite extension came just as the Court’s 120-day TRO issued in October 2012 was set to expire on February 6, 2013.
A week before the decision of the SC, the Office of the Solicitor General expressed misgivings over certain portions of the law. With this extension, the Philippines government will get the chance to omit those portions found to be objectionable. It is highly remarkable that a total of 15 petitions were filed with the High Court questioning the constitutionality of this law. Overwhelmingly, it has elicited strong negative reactions from various stakeholders such as civil society organizations, academe, journalists, bloggers, and Filipino netizens.
Netizens of the world: Why is this good news?
If it had entered into action after the end of the first temporary restraining order, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 would give a green light to limit fundamental freedoms of Filipinos and pose a real danger to women’s sexual rights and freedoms, not to mention that it would have had an undeniably regressive effects on the entire region. The indefinite extension of the TRO represents another chance for the Philippines government to review the portions found objectionable in this law, which is considered to focus solely in criminalisation, to contain provisions that are oppressive, susceptible to abuse, and against the fundamental liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, and not to show a clear understanding of the inherent nature and characteristic of ICTs relating to violence committed against women.
Even though the Philippine government failed to ensure a transparent, informed, and meaningful consultation with civil society organizations and other stakeholders during the discussion of the law, strong voices against the law made themselves heard and should be considered crucial agents for the achievement of the restraining order extension.
One of the most outstanding opposition voices was the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA), from which the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), a non-government organization based in the Philippines and APC member, is not only one of its core members but also acted as PIFA’s secretariat.
This alliance “has joined efforts in sending the message across all stakeholders that this law violates privacy, freedom of expression, and human rights”, FMA said in the article Philippines: the problematic cybercrime prevention law of 2012 .
The 61-page Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition and/or Injunction was filed on October 2012 by PIFA to the Executive Secretary. It was exhaustive and compelling on its arguments against the law.
Throughout its seven discussion points, the petition argued that the Cybercrime Prevention Act is an undue abridgement of the freedom of speech, expression, and of the press; that it authorizes government to conduct an unreasonable search and seizure; that violates the constitutional right to privacy and the right to privacy of communication and correspondence; that the act is contrary to the guarantee of equal protection under the law; that it violates our legal obligations under public international law; that acts as an ex post facto law; and that its implementation would clog the dockets of Filipino courts arising from a deluge of frivolous law-suits.
On October 2, 2012 PIFA held “#Black Tuesday” to protest against the law’s provisions curtailing freedoms that should be protected by the Philippine Constitution. This protest, held both offline and online, had a great influence in the ultimate decision of Supreme Court to act on the petitions filed and issue a temporary restraining order on the implementation of the law which was due during the first week of February.
Around the same time, FMA, in partnership with Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB), and with support from the Association for Progressive Communications Women’s Rights Programme and the Connect Your Rights! campaign, called to action to stop the implementation of the law.
FMA developed a Feminist Tech Exchange on the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 which specifically revolved around the vague “cybersex” provision of Sec 4-c1. This event, which was attended by 30 women leaders, aimed to strengthen advocacy on tech-related violence against women, or eVAW, to gain better understanding on the impacts of the law on women’s rights and to craft urgent actions. “Elements of the crime is not well-defined, and too vague and overboard, that it poses harm to women. It also so endangers women’s sexual rights,” stated FMA in a statement. “R.A. 10175 is blind to the real state of ICT-related VAW and must be questioned,” they added.
The Statement on the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was very clear in stating: “The law aims to prevent and combat crimes occurring in the cyber space. However, the sweeping and contentious definitions as well as the protective mechanisms in the law trample on the right to freedom of expression and liberty which are guaranteed by our Constitution.”
Now, the Philippines government will have more time to undo, to delete, and to respect human rights. And an organised civil society will certainly keep its eye on them.
More information and sources consulted: