Philippine Cybercrime Law: The Digital Divide and the Failure of the Tribe

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.”

“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.”

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.”

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.

  • ellumbra ,

    Perhaps there is now provision in the law – for me to rid myself of this plague (now going on for four years.)

    • cocoy ,

      LOL. May you and yours be successful.

    • UPnnGrd ,

      MLQ3 is wrong when he says that “pareho lang….” when PersiNoynoy signed into law the cyber-libel law. The law has given Malakanyang (and Sen Sotto) a lot more power.

      Atty Harry Roque points out that the penalties for libel under “cyber” has been raised, with noteworthy implications.
      ….. .. electronic libel is now punished with imprisonment from 6
      years and one day to up to 12 years, while those convicted for ordinary
      libel under the RPC are subject to imprisonment only from 6 months and
      one day to four years and two months. And because parole, a means by
      which a convict may be spared from actual imprisonment may be granted
      only to those sentenced to serve a prison term for no more than 6 months
      and one day, anyone convicted for cyber libel will inevitably serve a
      prison term.

      • GabbyD ,

        I think that raissa robles raises interesting issues of enforcement. but instead of making it more dangerous, it should make it MORE DIFFICULT to enforce for the vast majority of commentary.

        most commenting/blogging occur under false names. we dont know who they are. that will not change. if you dont know who wrote the libelous text, you cannot sue.

        • UPnnGrd ,

          UNKNOWN BLOGGER is easy to deal with. Remember the objective, which is to shut down all “… uinflattering commentaries” to protect… ahem–ahem– one’s reputation. The goal is to demonstrate power, so make someone bleed, that is what I will advise PersiNoy or Lacierda if “Retard-commentaries” get to really bother them. How??? Do this by suing the blogsite and the blogsite-owners. This is what I’ll advise Senator Sotto. Forget JoeAm and his flowery remarks, the one to make bleed is ProPinoy-dot….mga kunsintidor naman sila, eh.
          It takes courage ( or at least, it takes lawyering fees ) for blogsite board-of-directors to fight jail-time and kinda weaken the energy to repeat mouthing principles of Freedom-of-Expression or right-to-my-unknown-sources.

          • GabbyD ,

            “Do this by suing the blogsite and the blogsite-owners”

            did it work? kuwento ka pa!

            • UPnnGrd ,

              Gabby.—-> you may want to chat up Jon Limjap….. or ask that journalist who decided to capitulate and go to jail despite Pilipinas Constitution’s words about Freeom-of-Expression Freedom-of-the-Press

            • UPnnGrd ,

              before it gets forgotten, a blogsite getting sued for libel is better than what still is common occurrence in Pilipinas. Men on motorcycles.

              But really…. wouldn’t it have been better if what PersiNoynoy had approved was some anti-crime anti-Men-On-Motorcycle bill?

              • GabbyD ,

                anti-crime anti-Men-On-Motorcycle bill…

                OMG. ur a genius!

                • UPnnGrd ,

                  Hmmmm…. good point, Gabby… anti-men-on-motorcycle iis Malakanyang “executive” responsibility, so bill/Congress not needed, only Malakanyang.

          • manuel buencamino ,

            someone should just test the libel provision so that we leave the realm of conjecture

          • GabbyD ,

            if you read the UNHRC report, you’ll notice that judge’s will make the wrong decision, and the fact is that the case isnt over until its over in the SC.

            the journalist, Adonis, shouldve continued the case — esp since he had harry roque on his side.

            in general, libel cases should be fought all the way to the end, whatever the penalties for it may be.

            • cocoy ,

              There is philippine jurisprudence already, am told.

            • GabbyD ,

              but the problem is, “thats my opinion” won’t cut it.

              or is it a problem? this is exactly what libel is supposed to protect us against — unfounded, damaging allegations.

              • Joe America ,

                Well said. If the law becomes a tool for the powerful to remain in power, regardless of their ethical standards (e.g., Sotto and his ridiculous charge of being bullied by bloggers), then we can concede that the Philippines remains a totalitarian state, not under dictatorship, but under the rule of mafioso bosses who don’t mind sending out their enforcers to rid the earth of people they deem to be pests.

                • cocoy ,


                  • UPnnGrd ,

                    JoeAm: The existing Pilipinas libel law is where a news-dude got thrown in jail for months (not days or weeks but for months (maybe even years)). Found guilty by Pilipinas courts based on existing libel law. The news-dude’s crime? Putting on the news that a Man-Of-Power was found with ahemm-ahemm-female-companion-not-his-wife. Pictures taken, too. Guilty!!! Of damaging the reputation of the Man-of-Power found with-female-companion-not-his-wife. The TRUTH can get one in jail in Pilipinas!!!

                    So now, The TRUTH distro’ed via Internet can get one in jail in Pilipinas. Progress, yey!!!!

                    • GabbyD ,

                      ah, this is another way to avoid it — being purposefully vague in one’s insinuations

                  • GabbyD ,

                    I’ve been trying to research this for a couple of hours, but there is nothing online — what happened to the libel cases against the trib’s olivares RE villarasa?

                    she was found guilty by a lower court, and i suppose its now under appeal.

                    one of the results of that case is to determine how a journalist can be found with malice.

                    if a journalist writes a series of articles that at the time of writing has unsubstantiated allegations (or perhaps protected as a source), that person’s writing can be considered “malicious”.

                    i wonder if being found out later that she (or her source) was correct in hindsight validates her earlier writing.

                    and thats why the case hasnt prospered..

                    • cocoy ,

                      1. No online libel has prospered, as far as I know. Which has led to this law. There are two schools of thought on the matter. 1) Existing libel law already was already operating, and thus no need for this one. 2) No online libel has prospered because there isnt any law on the matter.

                      2. I can’t comment on malice, or what is required for something to be malicious. Am not a lawyer to do so. I won’t speculate has to its details.

                      I do know that truth is not a defense. I also do know that Philippine libel laws need to revisited.

                      • GabbyD ,

                        malice is the critical ingredient here.

                        the SC should already have some jurisprudence on what malice is, by journalists — thats why i was asking about olivares’ case. she was found guilty by a lower court.

                        if the lower court’s decision is upheld, malice would be easy to prove, and in fact, MANY bloggers would be guilty.

                        for example, say UPngrad said, many times, that Pnoy is mentally retarded.

                        when prompted, he made no attempt to explain, nor did he give proof, and he never attempted to determine whether he is correct (i.e. never asked for an interview with pnoy, never linked to evidence against his assertion that pnoy is retarded).

                        Up would then be guilty of libel, by the same logic that states olivares is guilty of libel.

                        • cocoy ,

                          In such a case, UPngrad would probably argue, that is his opinion.

                          LIke the phrase, “What a retard”.

                          • UPnnGrd ,

                            Pilipinas libel law will send to jail that UP-N-GRAD if PersiNoy (or Lacierda) file a case saying UPnnGRAD’s statements have damaged their reputation., so UP-N-GRAD’s defense should be that it is not his statements that did damage (if damage was even done). Because UP-N-GRAD intent is poof-walang-halaga. Even true-or- false becomes secondary in Pilipinas libel law, hindi ba? Damage-to-reputation is more important.
                            Actually, UPNGRAD’s defense will be opening a checkbook and hiring lawyers. Or he can iimplement whas has been implemented successfully before by PingLacson (and, so far, also by GenPalparan).

                    • UPnnGrd ,

                      Manolo Quezon shutting down his website that attracted many blogposters now makes more sense. AFTER ALL, MLQ3 can now be sued for libel had he allowed blogposters to post against, say, the CBCP or Binay or “Brenda”.

                      A fundamental problem really is Pilipinas Libel Law, isn’t it? Maybe progress is coming after all when a few more people join with the technologically uncouth about the intenet and social media so many more voices can rail against Pilipinas Libel Law.

                      • cocoy ,

                        Manolo still blogs. His site is still running.

                        • UPnnGrd ,

                          Oooops…. you are right, quezon-dot-ph is up and running.

                          but Manolo’s blogposts are so tame nowadays!!! Ang bait na ng mga blog commentaries ni MLQ3.

                          • cocoy ,

                            You can find most of his thoughts on Twitter. I would imagine he has little time these days to sit down and write.

                      • UPnnGrd ,

                        Twitter can make a fool of Senator Sotto’s lawyers, so Sen Sotto or his spouse won’t file a suit against Twitter.

                        Now, Senator Sotto filing against Pilipinas-based PropiNOY-dot because of JoeAm’s contemptuous remarks, that is probably most likely.

                        ACTION-ITEM for Pilipinas blogsites may be to move their sites to anyplace-else-but-PILIPINAS.

                        • cocoy ,

                          ProPinoy servers have been moved elsewhere already.