MAKATI City, Oct. 4, 2012?The Cybercrime law is really meant to inspire fear and caution, but only on those who willfully attack people online with malice, says a lawyer.
“It’s only those people, I feel, who have gotten used to being quite abusive over the internet without a corresponding knowledge that there should be consequences…for whatever they say, I think should be concerned over this [law],” Atty. Jemy Gatdula of the Ateneo de Manila Law School said in an interview.
Gatdula, who specializes in international and economic law, said countless articles and essays critical of politicians and the government are published on a daily basis, but they are not considered libelous because points are raised to discuss issues worthy of public discourse and not simply below-the-belt attacks on people.
What libel means
With the Cybercrime law, the same standards that media practitioners follow will apply to regular users of social media and social networks.
He explained that the ‘online libel’ section in RA 10175 is similar to the one in the Revised Penal Code, except that it addresses materials published online.
This means a case of ‘online libel’, as specified in Section 4 of the law, should first qualify as libel in the traditional sense with the element of malice playing a substantive role, before it can be considered a “cybercrime.”
Public discourse vs. below-the-belt attacks
Gatdula said the impression that the Cybercrime law will coddle public officials because any criticism against them could be found ‘libelous’ is just that – an impression.
He said the inclusion of the libel section is precisely to protect private individuals’ interests, not necessarily to shield government officials from affronts.
According to Gatdula, comments and opinions about legitimate issues even if directly clashing with a public figure’s stance is not libelous, as long as discussions are “on topic” and do not veer into personal attacks.
He also explained, even if a healthy scrutiny of government officials is allowed, this does not mean they should be stripped off of their constitutional rights as individuals at the pleasure of vitriolic netizens.
Referring to the recent case of a barrage of online cheap shots at Sen. Vicente Sotto III, Gatdula explained that the freedom of speech has limits and does not cover abusive and insulting language, which aims to degrade a person and not enlighten an issue.
No digital martial law here
Despite vehement expressions of outrage on social media over the law, Gatdula brushes off the idea that Republic Act 10175 signals the dawn of a “digital martial law.”
“What they’re saying on the internet, ‘this is martial law, we can’t criticize the government anymore…’ That’s not true, they can still do that. What is required of them is to do something responsible,” he explained.
According to Gatdula, the wave of reactions over the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is nothing but “mass hysteria”, stemming from not studying what the law actually means.
To date, several petitions have been filed calling for a TRO against Republic Act 10175, which took effect yesterday. [Nirva’ana Ella Delacruz]