When President Aquino was elected in 2010 there was much hope. It was the promise of a better Philippines. In many ways it has been a nation for the better. In many ways President Aquino’s election has been an eye opener to the myriad flaws in the way the nation operates. The botched hostage taking in August 2010 showed us how much inept our police are. The failure of the weather bureau and it’s slow subsequent transformation to a much better service is another example. Disaster preparedness is a lot better. The skirmishes with the Chinese highlighted the weakness in our nation’s armed forces. The death of Jessie Robredo likewise highlighted the lack of capability in rescue operations. Only now are we seeking signs of deep damage. What we have is a nation not unlike an old house requiring much renovation. And like these highlighted weaknesses, so too does the make, and passage of the Cybercrime law highlight another systemic flaw in our nation.
The Cybercrime Law highlights a digital divide between those who understand technology, and those who do not. It highlights the conservative thinking of our legislature, and the backward thinking in our politics balancing out the needs of tomorrow, with the need of a religious conservative society. It highlights the weakness too of our tribes, and how we have utterly failed to be proper ambassadors of technology, and the Internet so essential today. It is a startling example of where we are as a nation today: a dichotomy of the past with its provincial mentality, and a struggle for a more liberal future. In short, the cybercrime bill is an example of a digital divide between the technology savvy, and the not so.
The cybercrime law is a catch all law. It means that all the laws of the revised penal code automatically has an online equivalent. Lawyers, judges, and law enforcement have clamored for this.
The provision on cybersex is a response to the numerous cases of women and children being exploited online. Likewise, the cases of sex tapes being published. We are, after all, a very conservative society. Never mind if the source material was never intended to be published. Never mind if it was made by two consenting adults. The cybercrime law likewise doesn’t provide for provisions on sexual harassment, but since it is a catchall law, the laws already existing will serve as it. So if you’ve ever been sexually harassed on text message, watch for the implementing rules and regulations to be published because that’s how laws in the Philippines actually work, defined by what the executive says those rules and regulations are.
What else should you know about the Cybercrime bill? A wife being dissed on in social networks could not, they say file libel against a husband who has been bad mouthing her. And so, no libel case against someone online has prospered. So now libel means exactly what libel means in the print or broadcast world. Not that this too opens a whole can of worms.
Libel in the Philippines has always made the publisher and the editor-in-chief subject to libel by their writer. So a blog publisher will be subject to libel, as well as its editor-in-chief. In the American context, a site is not liable to a libelous comment left in its post. I have yet to figure out if the new Philippine Cybercrime Law follows similar thoughts, or if the publisher is equally liable. A casual reading of the published Cybercrime Law is silent on it. I wonder too how this would affect Twitter and Facebook. Would Tito Sotto for instance file a case against Twitter for publishing a libelous tweet against him? Again, the implementing rules and regulations could probably shed light on the matter.
Can you see how well-thought-of and well-written the CyberCrime Law is?
One of the provisions of the cybercrime law is on online libel. It means that libel on the Internet is the same kind of libel as it is on print.
Jon Limjap, a blogger, and a veteran and well-respected software developer wrote on his twitter saying that the Cybercrime law could now be used to “silence political critics online.”
— Jon Limjap (@LaTtEX) September 15, 2012
“That sweeping statement ignores the constitution and its guarantees,” Wrote former columnist, and now Undersecretary Manolo Quezon III. “Anyone who really wants to say something will always find a way to write it.” He added, “In my humble opinion, nothing there that any columnist hasn’t had to live with since time immemorial.”
Undersecretary Quezon is right. There is nothing in the bill that no columnist has had to put up with for years. At the same time, Jon Limjap’s fears are equally valid. According to Jojo Malig, during the 103rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, they ruled that “Philippine libel laws violate freedom of expression.”
— Jojo Pasion Malig (@JojoMalig) September 17, 2012
Philippine law, coincidently defines libel as “public, and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.”
And yes, bloggers ought to be aware of that. The rules of journalism ought to apply. Be careful how you write certain things.
Do the same rules apply to people leaving comments on websites, on Twitter, on Facebook, email and SMS? Do you want to find out?
So yes, there is a pressing need to revisit Philippine Libel law. And this very modern law now extends online.
As a victim myself of numerous attacks online, would this help protect me from trolls, innuendo and attack? Why doesn’t this law give me cause to rejoice?
The onus now too is on people who make the online world as a business. The cybercrime law says data must be kept up to six months. So yes, if you run a website, or own an online business, best to keep backup copies for up to six months. This is potentially more business for those in my line of work. Bad, if you own the business, which means more fees, and higher cost.
Is there anything good to come out of the cybercrime law? Well, yes, there is. For one thing, spam is now illegal. Which, I think we can all agree is a good thing. The second thing is that law says we should have a national cybersecurity policy. This is perhaps the best part of the law, and only part that gives me hope it is actually useful. Government will now (in theory) respond to cyberattacks on its websites and infrastructure. Again, the law is structured in such a way that the implementing rules and regulation will determine how well it is executed. If at all.
The cybercrime law highlights how flawed our legislature is. We have a group of people writing a law, drafting policy of which they barely understand, or construe the shape of, much less prepare the nation for the future that is without doubt coming. We have a nation trying to understand and grapple with technology that barely anyone understands, or comprehend the implications of. It is an epic struggle to bridge the 20th century, and the 21st. The political bench sadly is ill equip to deal with these struggles.
At the same time, the passage of the cybercrime law is an indictment of our tribes. We have failed us. We who understand technology have failed to bridge the digital divide. We are failing to educate how things are, and how things work. The tribes have failed to provide a constant campaign to be heard and to influence public opinion. We must now seriously reconsider how our collectivism can positively reshape society in the long term.
Where does this leave us then? We are left with a cybercrime law that for the most part reflects the tired past of Philippine governing, and law with a dash of what I hope could be a vision for the Philippines to engage in better cybersecurity.
Veteran News Anchor Twink Macaraig, in my humble opinion highlights the situation best. She tweeted, “I can hear our SC Justices now: ‘Tweeter kamo? And how is that different from Stumbler?’ Won’t be pretty.”