Who’s afraid of the Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012?

Senate Bill 2796 or the Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is not a bad law. Most of the online nasties the law aims to curb are no-brainers. So I will go straight to what, to me, is its main feature that sends chills up the spine of the average schmoe…

4) Libel – The unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other means which may be devised in the future.

The original law stipulates that “libel may be committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means.” Thus to that is added, the new media made possible by affordable and readily-accessible computer systems and the data networks to which they are connected, as the new means to commit libel already currently recognised by Philippine law. That is about the only new hazard added by the new law to the trade of publishing (traditional or online).

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[NB: Primary reference used in much of what follows comes from the article “Libel Laws of the Philippines” published on Abogadomo.com.]

Existing libel law in the Philippines is quite specific about what elements need to be present in an act that may be construed to be libelous: “(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.” [Daez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 47971, 31 October 1990, 191 SCRA 61, 67].

Publishers — whether they be traditional journalists who disseminate their reports and views via mainstream media channels, or people and entities (such as bloggers, web publishers, and so-called “social media practitioners”) who do the same by making use of new forms of media to which the 2012 Act extends existing libel laws — are by the very nature of their trade inherently subject to Condition (b), publication of the imputation. Specifically, “There is publication if the material is communicated to a third person. It is not required that the person defamed has read or heard about the libelous remark. What is material is that a third person has read or heard the libelous statement, for ‘a man’s reputation is the estimate in which others hold him in, not the good opinion which he has of himself.’ [Alonzo v. Court of Appeals, 241 SCRA 51 (1995)]”

Indeed, the best digital content published out there command a premium precisely because the specific subject person is clearly identified (thus meeting Condition (c) head-on as well).

On those two points (Conditions (b) and (c)), there is no debate. Digital media publishers worth their salt are inherently at risk in that respect. It seems to me that for that rather obvious reality alone, the digital chatterati are up and running around with arms flailing with crocodile indignation.

But there are really quite basic measures the best and most sensible Web writers usually take to ensure content he or she publishes may not be unfairly construed to be libelous. Conditions (a) imputation, and (d) malice cast what, at first glance, seems to be a fearsomely wide legal net. However, the best of us need not fear.

One way to engage in an act of imputation is through allegation. But then…

An allegation is considered defamatory if it ascribes to a person the commission of a crime, the possession of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstances which tends to dishonor or discredit or put him in contempt, or which tends to blacken the memory of one who is dead.

In the eyes of the law, making a published or broadcast allegation is therefore defamatory in most cases. But what most journalists and Web writers do most often is merely cite allegations articulated in a third source — as in when we quote a news report where said allegation is made — which, itself, is often a quote or statement from an identified source. This puts most writers in a position at least twice removed from the commission of an act that may be construed as libelous.

An interesting case is famed self-described “investigative journalist” Raissa Robles who used what she considers to be an “innovative” form of “investigation” in the name of her brand of “journalism” which she refers to using the term “crowdsourcing”, to impute an allegedly vast United States property portfolio to former Chief Justice Renato Corona who, at the time, was the defendant in his impeachment trial.

According to Robles, the information that went into this “report” was obtained “through ‘crowdsourcing’ in her blog”. By this, she means that she was given “leads” by a mob of readers and commentators who follow and participate in the “discussion” on the comment threads of her blog — a self-styled “Plaza Miranda” of Filipino “netizens”.

Robles’s “report” taken as a whole is not a mere citation of an allegation but a conscious call to collect, aggregate, and constitute itself with direct allegations and imputations that will have been published by her community of commentators on the comments section of her blog. In comparison, the actual Get Real Post article itself authored by Yours Truly in which Robles’s amusing approach to “investigative journalism” is highlighted cites certain fascinating pieces of information and even allegations about Robles. The big difference is that these pieces of information and allegations were cited from a third party source (in this case, PinoyExchange.com), and the existence online of the information used precedes that GR Post article. In contrast, Robles’s “report” not only anticipates but goes as far as inciting the delivery of potentially libelous claims from her community of readers, many of whom can quite reasonably be observed to harbour malicious intent.

That brings us to malice — specifically the presence or absence of it.

“In order to constitute malice, ill will must be personal. So if the ill will is engendered by one’s sense of justice or other legitimate or plausible motive, such feeling negatives actual malice.” [Aquino, Ramon C., The Revised Penal Code, Vol. III, Bk. II, 1997 Ed., citing People v. de los Reyes, Jr., 47 OG 3569]

In short, a writer can be excused of intended or unintended malice in his or her work if said work comes across as motivated by principles higher than petty ill-will or dislike for the person that is the subject of said report or point of view. This is of course difficult for most Filipino digital content producers as small minds possess the rather curious feature of being unable to transcend personality. Fortunately a focus on ideas is evident in the works of those who possess great minds (with people cited in their work constituting mere reference points that are subordinated to said ideas). As such, people with great minds need worry less that any sort of malice that can be construed as libelous is present in their work.

Bottom line is that if you are a truly excellent writer, you need not worry about the Philippine Cybercime Prevention Act of 2012. Mediocre folk, posers, and wannabes on the other hand, beware.

[Addendum: The Philippine Cyber Crime Prevention Law is now Republic Act No. 10175.]

23 Replies to “Who’s afraid of the Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012?”

  1. The biggest challenges are whether the cybercrime bill will be a real deterrent and most specially as to who will be proactively enforcing the cybercrime laws. and are there already cybercrime law enforcers trained and adept in this field?

    And how much was the budget allocated to implement the cybercrime bill? Remember …. Logistics Dictates Tactics!

  2. hmmmm… but I would expect that there’s always a “double-standardism” mania on the implementation of the said Act, just like our regular laws in the land….

  3. These people, who authored such a funny Bill; and signed by a President, whose sanity is in question is ridiculous. I do not know how they can Police the HYPERSPACE (Cyberspace). It’s like Policing the Stratosphere.
    Let us just wait and see, if this Bill is implemented. It will be a toothless Bill.
    FaceBook can be sued by a stupid Filipino official. Same as other Websites criticizing these officials. So this stupid Filipino official, will go to the North Pole or South Pole, to arrest the Filipino Blogging there. Or, if he is in the MIR (SkyLab), circling the Earth, at outer space. They will ask the Russians to launch a Filipino Policeman, to arrest someone , who blog against them. Anyway, I have a good laugh. The investigation of Puno should be a priority. It is a multi billion scam committed by the Aquino administration. They wanted to divert it thru this stupid Bill…

    1. It will only be like one of wile e coyotes plans to catch the road runner and it will likely blow up in their faces like dynamite.

    2. I think from what you have posted in this blog as a reply is already considered as Libel if that law is going to be considered. Isn’t it?

  4. Since you cant own the internet, censor it!

    This seems to be the malacanan approach to the one area of media which they worry about most come 2013, and 2016 in particular

    No chance of FoI but this bill rapidly enacted.

    It will enable pressure to be applied if necessary on sites deemed as unfriendly.

    Another brick in the wall of dictatorship.

    The sad part is that without a genuine ‘opposition’ or intelligent/investigative media these things just happen without debate.

    What a subservient society, and weak press/tv. Not one genuine political analyst/commentator, just paid propagandists who are too cosy with the politicos to report objectively.

  5. Most likely this plan will only blow up in their faces. By censoring the internet, they have opened the pandora’s box. The people will be forced onto the streets to protest their unsatisfaction against the government. Pnoy’s popularity will go down to rock bottom and his term will be shortened.

  6. Where will they publish the cyber law? In the Official Gazette and/or two newspapers of national circulation? Will they launch it on the internet?

    The internet is international in scope. It knows no boundaries. You can go online under the sea, in the air, in orbit and even from other planets. Who will enforce the cyber law in foreign and/or non-accessible territories? Criminal law can be enforced only within the territorial boundaries of the Philippines. Good hackers can lay a false trail abroad.

    In case of hacking as a result of cyber war… How will they enforce this? Major hacker warriors can and will get away with it. This is very true. The same can be said of those who steal information and secrets.

    Lastly, how will they deal with cyber revolution, cyber civil disobedience and internet wide condemnation? This is just my opinion… The Philippines on its own cannot impose controls on cyberspace. Dead law most likely.

    1. There are Filipino Geeks, living abroad, who Blog on most anti-Aquino sites. These Bloggers are: well educated from universities abroad; studied and are trained in electronics and computers; their knowledge on computers are far advanced than any YellowTard Hacker, that the Aquino and the Cojuangco family can hire…

  7. I got your point, that it’s difficult to establish libel. But then again, the government can use this law for simple HARASSMENT. The Noynoy government has refined the technique of using legitimate laws to make life difficult for people, who may or may not be innocent.

  8. Didn’t read the whole act itself, but I am amused at how “government-centric” the proposed punishable offenses are. At its worst, it would seem like to be crafted to compensate for the lack of security features (and in general, the crappiness) of our government websites.

    On a relative note, it’s quite funny to think that this bill was passed before the Freedom of Information bill which was being shown in the mainstream television media. You may call me crazy, but I’m speculating that the Freedom of Information bill would be another calculated political exploit in behalf of our candidates for the upcoming elections, and its effect in the elections would be maximized, considering that there will be people who will be questioning the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

    1. That gives this Act the flaw.

      If the people would question some matters on transparency over the Internet, it would a possibility that the government would invoke this Act to counter the question. Our favorite FOI bill is still hanging.

  9. Bottom line is that if you are a truly excellent writer, you need not worry about the Philippine Cybercime Prevention Act of 2012. Mediocre folk, posers, and wannabes on the other hand, beware.

    Me, I see it differently. Writers like fishball or jonas and practically the entire membership of this blog are in no danger of being accused of libel because we are nothing. We don’t matter in the scheme of things. The bigwigs of Philippine politics will not waste their time filing cases against us.

    On the other hand, ‘truly excellent writers’ – although I must admit most of them are anti-Gloria Arroyo (De Quiroz, David, Vitug, Tordesillas, Macaset etc.) should watch their backs for, if the suspicion of most members here are true, Noynoy might do a Marcos and throw all of them, the anti-P-Noys, in jail. Same is true with the regard to the trapos in Senate and Congress.

    1. It’s so obvious that this Jona-ass is underestimating GRP writers. It’s ironic considering he/she spends so much time on this site nowadays.

      It’s obvious that he/she is not satisfied with the moronic views of the anti-Gloria paid hacks he/she idolises. Pfft!

  10. tito sotto need not worry either.
    to say he is a plagiarist is true and not libelous under any circumsttances, and it is only his lack of knowledge, cowardice and originality which he constantly exposes with his inane comments.
    these dinosaurs cannot even use internet but want to legislate something they dont understand – just like anti rh bill.
    thank god their time is nearly over.
    enough damage by these corrupt criminals.
    yesterdays men and i hestitate to even call them men.

  11. The bill has some necessary measures, but the problem is that it’s creators have independent blog and sites like this to be main target of their bill. This bill is like a tomb, beautiful on the outside, but horrible inside.

  12. In libel, malice is presumed.

    The burden of proving such defamatory statements are free of malice or ill will rests upon the accused. Proving lack of malice is, well, hard.

    As Ruri Hoshino from Martian Successor Nadesico always says: “Idiot.” The Cyber-Crime Law’s provision on libel in relation with the Revised Penal Code’s own is not as clear-cut and easy as our friendly neighborhood webmaster attempts to explain it. :3

  13. is this for real? a total waste of the tax we pay.

    1. use an ip randomiser if you are using a line connection (home connection registered to your name) or a simple proxy server, if you are using a mobile broadband connection skip to step two.

    2. create dummy accounts, existing troll accounts will do.

    3. visit any government/official page.

    4. troll to your heart contents.

    this law is a joke.

    if they want to enforce internet censorship, they should create a security blanket over the whole country. that at least will keep your normal trolls from doing what they do.

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