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‘Internet libel in cyber crime law constitutional’

MANILA, Philippines - Netizens will now have to be careful with what they post online.

The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday upheld the constitutionality of a key provision in the controversial Republic Act No. 10175 or Cybercrime Prevention Act that criminalizes online libel.

Justices of the high court voted in session to declare constitutional Section 4 (c) (4) of the law, which penalizes acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) committed through a computer system.

The SC ruled that imposition of cyber libel on the “original author of the post” is constitutional, but clarified the same is unconstitutional insofar as it penalizes those who simply receive the post and react to it.

This means only the source of a malicious e-mail, post on social media like Facebook or any website, tweet on Twitter can be held liable under RA 10175.

It was not, however, clarified whether forwarding, commenting, sharing or retweeting the item could be considered a crime under the law. 

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SC spokesman Theodore Te said it would be best to wait for the issuance of the decision penned by Associate Justice Roberto Abad for the actual text used by the high court.

Petitioners went as far as asking the SC to void the libel provision in the Revised Penal Code, which the high tribunal did not allow.

“If it (libel under RPC) is not in the ruling, that means its constitutionality remains,” Te told reporters in a press conference.

The high court also declared constitutional the imposition of penalty on those aiding or abetting the commission of cybercrimes under Section 5 of the law.

But the SC declared unconstitutional its application on the crimes of child pornography, unsolicited commercial communications and online libel.

In other words, one who “willfully abets or aids” the author in posting a malicious online item cannot be held criminally liable.

The SC also voided Section 7 of the law, which allows prosecution of online libel and child pornography both under RA 10175 and RPC.

The court said such provision violates the constitutional right against double jeopardy. This means a netizen prosecuted for online libel under the cybercrime law could no longer be charged with a separate case for libel under the Revised Penal Code.

The high court dismissed the constitutional questions raised in the 15 consolidated petitions on 19 other provisions of RA 10175.

Among the key provisions declared constitutional by the SC were the sections penalizing illegal access, data interference, cybersquatting, computer-related identity theft, cybersex, child pornography and allowing search and seizure of computer data.

The SC, however, struck down as unconstitutional three other assailed provisions of the law: Section 4 (c) (3), which penalizes unsolicited commercial communication; Section 12, which authorizes the collection or recording of traffic data in real-time; and Section 19, which authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) to restrict or block access to suspected computer data.

The magistrates voted on each of the assailed provisions, but Te said he was not informed as to how the voting per provision went.

RA 10175 was supposed to take effect in October 2012 but its implementation was stopped by the SC through a 120-day temporary restraining order that was extended for an indefinite period in February last year.

With the SC ruling, Te explained the TRO has been automatically lifted. 

“That is functus officio (of no further legal efficacy) since the case is already done. As far as the provisions that were not declared unconstitutional, the presumption of course is that they will now be enforceable because they were not affected by the declaration of the Court,” Te said. – With Christina Mendez, Artemio Dumlao

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