8 October 2012
The Commission on Human Rights welcomes the issuance of a temporary restraining order by unanimous vote of the Supreme Court today on the government’s implementation of Republic Act No. 10175, otherwise known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act. This allows the High Court the time to study and deliberate on the many petitions brought before it questioning the constitutionality of its provisions in a sober environment that maintains the status quo.
From a human rights perspective, many provisions of R.A. No. 10175 are indeed questionable and need to be carefully examined by our Supreme Court Justices for possible infringement on the freedom of expression. This right is fully guaranteed in our Constitution, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which we are a signatory and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which we are a State party.
In particular, it is our view that the law’s provisions on libel constitutes a prior restraint to free speech, contrary to the Constitution and the ICCPR. In fact, the UN Human Rights Committee, the treaty body of the ICCPR, has recently ruled in October 2011 in a case brought before it that the Philippine Government’s imprisonment of a Filipino journalist for libel was incompatible with the strict provisions of the Covenant on restrictions on the freedom of expression.
The Human Rights Committee cited General Comment No. 34 on the right to freedom of expression that it adopted in July 2011. It states: “Defamation laws must be crafted with care to assure that they comply with paragraph 3 (of Article 19 of the ICCPR) and that they do not serve, in practice, to stifle freedom of expression.” In addition, and specifically relevant to the issues now before the Supreme Court, paragraph 15 of GC No. 34 states: “States parties should take account of the extent to which developments in information and communication technologies, such as internet and mobile based electronic information dissemination systems, have substantially changed communications practices around the world. xxx States parties should take all necessary steps to foster the independence of these new media and to ensure access of individuals thereto.”
We are encouraged by the fact that the TRO was backed by all the justices. What Congress should do now in relation to the libel provision of the law, applying also the human rights standards on the freedom of expression, is not only to surgically remove the offending provision from the Cybercrime Prevention Act, but to repeal the provisions on libel and defamation in the Revised Penal Code. The imposition of civil sanctions should suffice in order to protect one's dignity from defamatory utterances, and it's the only form of punishment that generally complies with international human rights standards.
We would like to reiterate our position that, relative to R.A. No. 10175, the three branches of government should pay special attention, apart from the relevant provisions of our Constitution, to the international human rights standards on the right to freedom of expression as contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as interpreted by the UN Human Rights Committee in its General Comment No. 34. ###
Loretta Ann P. Rosales