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Lawyer: Gov’t concedes to unconstitutionality of Cybercrime Law provision

MANILA, Philippines - The government has conceded to the unconstitutionality of a provision in Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act, according to a lawyer who is challenging the law.

UP law professor Harry Roque Jr., one of the petitioners questioning the legality of the controversial law before the Supreme Court (SC), confirmed this yesterday ahead of the scheduled oral argument on the consolidated petitions on the case on Jan. 15.

He said they received a document from the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) specifically agreeing to their argument that Section 19 of the law, which gives the Department of Justice (DOJ) the power to “take down” websites without the need for court order, violates the constitutional right to due process as it is tantamount to prior restraint.

“The OSG has conceded on this issue, but it will still be argued in the oral argument,” Roque explained.

He said the OSG had informed him and other petitioners in the case that it is ready to defend the constitutionality of the other questioned provisions in the new law.

He added that they met yesterday afternoon with SC Associate Justice Roberto Abad, to whom the case was assigned, to discuss rules in the oral argument.

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In an interview with reporters after the meeting, Roque revealed that five lawyers were elected to argue for the petitioners during the hearing.

He said he was chosen to argue on the issue of constitutionality of the electronic libel provision in RA 10175; Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares on the elevation of penalties on crimes covered by the new law by one degree from the Revised Penal Code;

Philippine Bar Association Ma. Charito Cruz on the take-down clause; lawyer Jose Jesus Disini on the real-time collection of online data by authorities; and human rights lawyer Julius Garcia Matibag on the imposition of penalties for Internet users for aiding or abetting cybercrimes.

The SC, for its part, explained that Justice Abad met with petitioners to “help prepare the counsels for the parties in relation to the multiple issues raised.”

“Justice Abad took the initiative of meeting with the said counsels to discuss possible ground rules. One of the purposes of the meeting was to determine which of the many issues presented by the various petitions should be heard on oral arguments and which of the remaining issues could be argued in written memoranda to be submitted to the Court after the oral arguments,” it explained in a statement.

The SC said the “final list and sequence of issues to be argued, the counsels to argue the same, the time allotted for the said counsels to present their arguments, and additional dates for oral arguments, if any, will be resolved by the Court in its first session of the year on Jan. 8 and embodied in an advisory to be issued to all the parties.”

On Oct. 9, 2012, the SC issued a temporary restraining order, effective for 120 days, against the implementation/enforcement of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 after various groups from the media and civil society and several individuals, including some members of Congress, had petitioned the Court to strike down some or all of the provisions of the law. 

The solicitor general, as counsel for the government, has already submitted its comments to the various petitions arguing in favor of the constitutionality of a majority of the provisions of the law.

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