By Karl John C. Reyes
MANILA, Philippines – Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday admitted he introduced a provision that all crimes under the Revised Penal Code, including libel, be included in the recently signed Anti-Cyber Act Law.
But, he made it clear in a separate interview, that it could not in any way be construed as “payback” for the cyber-bullying he felt he was subjected to after delivering a series of speeches on the RH bill, because these happened in August, while the revisions he suggested were included in the Senate bill way back seven months ago, in January.
At the same time, Sotto said the provision granting the Justice department powers to unilaterally block access to a web site on prima facie finding of a crime was introduced by the main sponsor, Sen. Edgardo Angara.
Angara inserted a new section on restricting or blocking access to computer data, something that media organizations and some legal experts fear may constitute prior restraint.
Section 19 of the law, on “Restricting or Blocking Access to Computer Data,” provides that: “When a computer data is prima facie found to be in violation of the provisions of this Act, the DOJ shall issue an order to restrict or block access to such computer data.”
Angara, in his manifestation during the period of amendments, had said the Committee did not intend to impose any prior restraint, which is prohibited by the Constitution.
Sotto said the provisions will be further dealt with in the drafting of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for the law.
Explaining the provision he introduced as borne out in the Senate Journal of January 24, 2012, Sotto told reporters on Wednesday, “Masama ba ilagay ko ang libel, at lahat ng crime punishable under the Revised Penal Code, including libel which is already a crime?”
If someone using cyber space as a medium is doing nothing wrong or against the law, he or she need not worry about the provision, he added.
Here’s how the Senate Session Journal No. 46 dated January 24, 2012 put it when Sotto introduced the inclusion of RPC-listed crimes under coverage of the then cyber-crime bill: “Preliminarily, Senator Sotto stated that there are numerous abuses in technology, particularly the video and photo uploading and unnecessary write-ups and comments in social networking systems.”
He also read the definition of libel in Mendez vs. Court of Appeals (OR No. 124491, June I, 1999), to wit: a 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 discredit or cause the dishonor or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. Thus, the elements of libel are: (a) imputation of a discreditable act or condition to another; (b) publication of the imputation; (c) identity of the person defamed; and, (d) existence of malice.
Furthermore, according to the Journal, Sotto observed that the publication requirement in the crime of libel can be achieved by the mere fact that it is seen in cyberspace and this can further promote the habit of “think before you click.” It is clear, he noted, that cybercrimes are not covered under Article 355 of Revised Penal Code.
So, as proposed by Sotto and accepted by the Sponsor, there being no objection, the Body approved the insertion of a new paragraph, to wit: LIBEL – THE UNLAWFUL OR PROHIBITED ACTS OF LIBEL AS DEFINED IN ARTICLE 355 OF THE REVISED PENAL CODE COMMITTED THROUGH A COMPUTER SYSTEM OR ANY OTHER SIMILAR MEANS WHICH MAYBE DEVISED IN THE FUTURE.
Meanwhile, Senator Angara, sponsor of the measure, pointed out that cyberspace is just a new avenue for publicizing or communicating a libelous statement which is subject to prosecution and punishment as defined by the Revised Penal Code.