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DOJ to drop online libel from revised cybercrime law

(Updated 2:19 p.m.) The Department of Justice (DOJ) doesn't want anyone jailed for retweeting or liking a post.

Senior justice officials revealed on Thursday that the department will be submitting an "enhanced" version of the much-derided cybercrime law that will exclude some of the more unpopular provisions, including those on online libel and empowering the government to shut down websites suspected of violating the law.

But the changes also include the deletion of provisions that pertain to child pornography and cybersquatting "because these are punishable under other laws already," according to  Geronimo Sy, head of the DOJ Cybercrime Office, at the start of the 3rd Regional Cybercrime Conference in Manila.

At the same conference, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima  said they plan to endorse the new version of the law, signed by President Aquino last September but stopped by a temporary restraining order by the Supreme Court, during the 16th Congress. The passage of the law triggered a wave of protests from a wide range of citizens groups.
"We will be proposing certain improvements of the Cyber Prevention Act, but of course we need to wait for the action of the Supreme Court (SC) in the pending petition," said De Lima, referring to petitions contesting the constitutionality of the law. "(Pero) kahit ano mangyari doon sa petisyon na yun sa SC, we are contemplating introducing or proposing to Congress certain enhancements."

Sy revealed that the DOJ never really supported the online libel provision of the law.

Media reports disclosed last year that the libel provision was inserted in the bill that was to become law upon the suggestion of Sen. Tito Sotto, who was then being pilloried on social media for alleged plagiarism. There were fears that even retweeting an offensive comment could land one in jail.
"Definitely, the libel provision is out in the enhanced version of the Cybercrime Prevention Act," Sy said. "Wala namang perfect law eh so we continue to repeat, reiterate until we get it right. So wala na ho yung libel for sure which the Department of Justice in the first place never supported."
He also said the provision of the law that sets a penalty of one-degree higher than those covered by the Revised Penal Code should also be taken out.
Sy said even if the high court eventually rules in favor of the contested provisions of the law, the DOJ would still push through with its proposed changes.
"Dapat i-upgrade natin yung batas. And while we upgrade laws, we also don’t remove bad laws. Dagdag tayo nang dagdag, hindi natin tinatanggal ung mga lumang batas na hindi na consistent dun sa bagong tema ng batas," he told reporters during the conference.

Thursday's conference is entitled, "Protecting Children against Online Sexual Violence in Southeast Asia: Law Enforcement Cooperation and Criminal Law Benchmarks of Budapest and Lanzarote Conventions."
The conference included a workshop which De Lima said was "timely and relevant to address the need to further strengthen the law enforcement's rapid measured investigative response on online violence against children."
The Supreme Court earlier extended until further notice the 120-day temporary restraining order it issued on the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
'Chilling effect' 
Early in January, the high court started hearing the oral arguments of 15 petitioners against the law, as well as the side of the Office of the Solicitor General in defense of RA 10175.
In the petitioners' presentations last January 15, they expressed fears that the law would create a "chilling effect" on people's rights. They said certain provisions of the law violate a person's right to free speech, due process, equal protection of the law, and against double jeopardy.
The petitioners said that while they see the need for a cybercrime law, the legislation in its current form is too vague and overarching in its scope.
University of the Philippines law professor and petitioner Harry Roque, who argued against the provisions of the law on electronic libel and cybersex, said there is a possibility that even Internet service providers (ISPs) could be held liable as the law also punishes those that "cause" the publication of libelous statements online. — TJD/RSJ/HS, GMA News