The Philippines is abuzz, and ironically, we're supposed to keep quiet. The recent political brouhaha involves the Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Like everything political that happens in our country, a huge storm followed, with the public crying e-Martial Law. And yet, I find myself agreeing with the Anti-Cybercrime Law. Now, now, there's no need to doubt that it's me. No one is holding a gun to my head as I type this - I am expressing my own personal thoughts on the matter.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the bill is the libel clause. In a nutshell, netizens will now be liable for what they say online, and may be charged for libel, an act that may get them jailed for up to 12 years. Frankly, I don't understand why people are making a big deal out of it. Libel exists in the publishing world and now that blogs and social networking sites are becoming legitimate forms of writing, it makes sense that the government should regulate it.
The point of libel is to protect people from unfounded claims that injure a reputation. And at the rate people bully others online, it's high time we need it. People seem to think that they can just say whatever they want and hide behind the veil of Anonymous, but sometimes, their comments hurt and are completely out of context.
Maybe people are just exaggerating their fears. They seem to think that with the Anti-Cybercrime law, they are no longer allowed to say what they really feel. That they will no longer be able to rant about their insensitive boyfriends and domineering bosses. I don't know if the elements of online libel will be the same as libel in print, but libel in print must have the following: (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. I doubt that you will be jailed for simply disagreeing with another's opinion. If we are to base the libel clause on libel in print, a charge must meet all four elements and must include due process.
I've been a writer for quite some time, therefore I'm somewhat familiar with the grounds of libel. There's a way of criticizing someone's beliefs without hitting below the belt. After all, one mustn't stray from the issue and call a person ugly because he doesn't share your beliefs. We should be accountable for what we say, regardless of where we say it. We can't just call people names and expect to get away with it. We're looking at you, The Varsitarian. I'm glad that while UST is with you for supporting the RH Bill, they do not tolerate you calling Atenean and Lasallian professors "intellectual pretenders and interlopers."
What people are worried about is the possible abuse of people in power. After all, the people who signed the Cybercrime Bill are those who are regularly ridiculed or talked about online, so there has to be a personal angle to their signatures. It can be scary. By giving them the power to control what we say, it's easy to connect the bill to an e-Martial Law. There is a fear of excluding due process, much like what happens to other crimes. For reference, please watch Give Up Tomorrow, a powerful documentary about the case of Paco Larrañaga and the Chiong sisters. I watched it today after renewing my passport and I was emotionally drained.
Last Thursday, I was at Opus for the launch of Book Below Zero, the country's first online hotel booking website. I met Bingo, an SEO specialist and he shared his thoughts on the bill. He was more worried about the economic impact of the bill, but that's because of his line of work. For me, I was more concerned about libel.
Bills aren't bad, people are. In fact, the clause on libel is just this: "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 similar means which may be devised in the future." And for reference, Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code states that: a libel is 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.
As far as I can remember, no one has ever complained about that.
Libel has been around for years but it only affected journalists. However, you don't see them raising hell. I met one journalist from The Philippine Daily Inquirer who proudly told me that he has received over 30 cases of libel. And Lolit Solis? She must have them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and during cocktail hour.
So there's no need to worry. They can barely catch criminals in broad daylight. What more the intricate universe of the world wide web?