“THIS IS a virgin area of practice,” stated Atty. Rico Domingo in the opening remarks of the 10th Media Law symposium held last March 12, 2013, at the Justitia Hall. This year’s forum focused on cyberspace and was entitled, “Cyber Crime or Cyber Restraint: A Discourse on the Cybercrime Prevention Law and its Effect on Internet Freedom.”
The Media Law and Ethics class of Atty. Domingo invited four speakers who each represented different fields and personalities involved in the issues of cybercrime. First to present was Atty. Francis Acero, an Ateneo Law School alumnus and currently a Director of Democracy.net.ph, the Internet Freedom Advocates and Think Tank. Atty. Acero’s discussion concentrated on the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10175), the different crimes defined in the law, and the challenges involved. According to him, “Cyber law is a gray area because there is a conflict between state regulation and private regulation.” There are four main categories of offenses in the Act: offenses against confidentiality, integrity and availability, computer related offenses, content related offenses and other offenses. Some of the offenses are illegal access, cyber squatting, computer-related identity theft, cybersex and child pornography. Atty. Acero expressed caution that the prosecution for the offenses is the most troublesome aspect of cyber crime because of the difficulty in proving the elements of each offense.
Thereafter, Police Chief Inspector Jay Guillermo, member of the Chief Intelligence and Investigation Section of the Philippine National Police – Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG), gave the audience an overview of his group and the enforcement of cybercrime apprehension in the Philippines. “As long as a crime uses ICT (information and communications technology), we investigate it,” explained C/Insp. Guillermo. He reported that most of the crimes they probe are committed through the use of the Internet.
Known as a victim of cyber-bullying and famously known for the line, “I was not informed,” Atty. Christopher Lao had his turn to inform students about Internet libel. Although starting his speech with a good-naturedly joke, “kasama ba kayo doon sa mga iyon?” He quickly shifted to a serious discourse on the issues pertaining to Internet libel. Stating that “libel is not a purely public concern because the public is offended,” Atty. Lao further explained how the libel provision in the Cybercrime Prevention Act is not vague and does not violate any constitutional right. He addressed some arguments against Internet libel: the provision itself is not vague because all the elements are clearly stated; the media cannot argue against it because they are protected through privilege found in the law itself; and the provision does not give a “chilling effect” because such argument is only used when the law itself is vague. Going into a more personal approach, Atty. Lao recounted how that moment in 2011 was such a traumatic time for him. He said, “my body felt like it was being attacked by millions of people.” Atty. Lao revealed that if it were not for his friends and his family, he would not be alive to give that speech. Ending passionately, he asked the audience: “Isn’t your dignity worth fighting for? Isn’t the dignity of your relatives worth fighting for?”
Representing the other side of the coin, Franco Mabanta, a television host, writer actor and model, engaged the guests and his fellow speakers in an active evaluation of his past posts on Twitter, a social media site where he is more popularly known than any other field in media. Mabanta claimed that, “social media affects people socially and economically,” and being so, he expressed that the Cybercrime Prevention Act definitely has an impact on the freedom of Internet users like him. He read the different tweets he made during the last year’s grilling of pork scam mastermind Janet Napoles by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago in the Senate Blue and asked his fellow speakers Atty. Acero, C/Insp. Guillermo and Atty. Lao, if he could be charged with Internet libel. While he wanted to conduct an activity involving individual expression on social media, he and the other speakers ran out of time.