Philippine SC suspends contentious Cybercrime law; Oral arguments Jan15

By Floyd Whaley

The Supreme Court of the Philippines on Tuesday suspended a new Internet law that critics had said could lead to imprisonment for sharing posts on social media.

“We respect and will abide by it,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima wrote Tuesday in a text message to reporters, referring to the court’s unanimous decision to suspend enforcement of the law for 120 days.

“Our advocacy for a safe cyberspace and interdiction of organized crime will continue.” Fifteen petitions had been filed with the court opposing the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which took effect on Oct. 3. A spokeswoman for the high court, Maria Victoria Gleoresty Guerra, said the government had 10 days to file an initial response to the petitions. Oral arguments are scheduled for Jan. 15, she said.

The law establishes penalties for various computer-related crimes, including child pornography, identity theft, online fraud and illegally accessing computer networks. It also makes online libel punishable by imprisonment, which critics said could result in the criminalization of common activities like sharing Facebook and Twitter posts.

Critics also said that the law gives the government wide-ranging powers to access information on Internet users and to block Web sites. The law’s passage was followed by a public outcry, including street protests, social media campaigns and the hacking of government Web sites.

Senator Edgardo J. Angara, the author of the legislation in the Senate, said he welcomed the suspension so that the law could be publicly debated and better understood. “I’m not disappointed,” Mr. Angara said. He added later: “What the Cybercrime Prevention Act does is only to regulate socially destructive acts, because you cannot enjoy your right fully and confidently if others have an equal right to interfere with your right.”

Others pledged to fight until the law is repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court. “A temporary restraining order, unanimously issued, is the first victory in our battle to defend our freedom and right of expression,” said Senator Teofisto D. Guingona III, who had voted against the measure.

“For a court to issue a T.R.O. unanimously is a strong message of its belief that the dangers and fears of the people are real and must be addressed.” Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called for the high court to strike down the law and for any new Internet legislation to be debated in a transparent manner.

“All provisions in Philippine law that allow for imprisonment for peaceful expression should be repealed,” said Brad Adams, the advocacy organization’s Asia director.