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Slice of Life
Monday, February 24, 2014
GOVERNMENT wants responsible social media use but it will do all means to dilly-dally on the Freedom of Information.
The Cybercrime law covers a range of offenses from misuse of devices, data interference, confidentiality, cybersex and trafficking, including libel which poses a serious threat to the freedom of expression, due process and equal protection.
Section 4 (4) of the law provides that “the unlawful and 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.”
The Revised Penal Code (Article 355) defines libel as a "public imputation and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstances tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead."
But it is a law that has been questioned time and again as the criminal sanctions imposed on those accused of libel are incompatible with the Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which holds that everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference, and the right to freedom of expression which shall include the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in pint, in the form of art, or through any other media.
The UN has reiterated that “State parties should consider the decriminalization of defamation and in any case, the application of the criminal law should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases and imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty. It is impermissible for a State party to indict a person for criminal defamation but not to proceed to trial expeditiously- such a practice has a chilling effect that may unduly restrict the exercise of freedom of expression of the person concerned and others.”
On September 2012, the Cybercrime law was passed with nary a public consultation. The Supreme Court stopped its implementation through a 120-day temporary restraining order. It was the same period that advocates were pushing for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act which has been pushed on the sideline. Petitioners have cited that the Cybercrime Law violates constitutional sanctions against double jeopardy, undue delegation of legislative authority and right against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Time and again, government have chosen to compromise public transparency and accountability.
It wants to define responsible social media use on the same manner that it wants to put in place its own version of the Freedom of Information bill to ensure that it could not be abused ‘by people who ask for information but do not put it to proper use.’
The primary source of the right to information is to be found in the universally recognized right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. Where there is no transparency, human rights will continue to be under threat by people who would want to control and manipulate the public.
We want to see government responding to its commitment to the public. Under a democratic system, its main responsibility is to do its job of promoting and upholding human rights, encourage participation and ensure that everyone gets to live life humanely and realize their full potential.
It is not about silencing legitimate dissent. Only despots hinder free speech and expression to ensure that they are not held accountable for their decisions and actions. The Cybercrime law aims to do just that.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 25, 2014.