Let reason rule over hysteria
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-10-09
Allow me to share my personal apprehensions about the Cyber-crime Prevention Act of 2012 or otherwise known as Republic Act (RA) 10175, as follows:

1. The element of an empowered Justice Department (DoJ) to shut down deemed offensive websites or blogs has to be clearly defined. Under President Benigno S. Aquino III (P-Noy), there’ll likely be nothing to worry about. But what happens when the likes of another Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) rises to power?

2. That’s a very poor justification for imposing stiffer penalties for libel on cyberspace when compared to libel on mainstream media. The penalties for libel whether on cyberspace or in the mainstream media should be uniform. The fact that our newspapers are also on cyberspace via their respective websites debunks the basis for a stiffer penalty for libel on cyberspace.

There is a need for reason to prevail over the mass hysteria that followed the passing of the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Much of the hysteria can be traced to people’s mistaken notion that cyberspace is a personal space where the State or other offended individuals have no recourse to what’s stated or depicted, much less seek redress. You own the computer perhaps but cyberspace is public domain. Being a new form of technology that was fast evolving, it took time to craft the necessary laws that will govern behavior on cyberspace.

NO PERSON HAS THE RIGHT TO LIBEL OR SLANDER ANOTHER PERSON whether on mainstream media — print, radio and television — or in cyberspace. That’s what the hysterical protesters of the RA 10175 have forgotten altogether. Mistaken notions and imagined fears have clouded their judgment.

Social media cannot be classified as “personal” communication, as what the anti RA 10175 protesters are saying. Both Facebook and Twitter are shared with many other persons, perhaps far exceeding in numbers the actual circulation of some of our dailies — some estimated to be anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 copies per edition.

If you’re a woman and somebody posted a faked photo of you on Facebook and narrated a malicious story around it that makes you look like a streetwalker — you have the right to sue and claim damages. If you’re a man and somebody posted a faked photo of you beside another woman, who wasn’t really in that scene, to make it look that you’re having an affair — you too have the right to sue and claim damages.

People should first appreciate what constitutes libel, slander, and defamation of character, and so forth, before they allow the hysteria to cloud their judgment. The website www.abogadomo.com that’s supplied by the Tanjutco Law Firm provides a good guide in their article LIBEL LAWS OF THE PHILIPPINES. Here are some of their inputs:

Citing Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, “libel is defined as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to discredit or cause the dishonor or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. Thus, the elements of libel are: (a) imputation of a discreditable act or condition to another; (b) publication of the imputation; (c) identity of the person defamed; and, (d) existence of malice.”

Furthermore, “In libel cases, the question is not what the writer of an alleged libel means, but what the words used by him mean. Jurisprudence has laid down a test to determine the defamatory character of words used in the following manner, viz: “Words calculated to induce suspicion are sometimes more effective to destroy reputation than false charges directly made. Ironical and metaphorical language is a favored vehicle for slander. A charge is sufficient if the words are calculated to induce the hearers to suppose and understand that the person or persons against whom they were uttered were guilty of certain offenses, or are sufficient to impeach their honesty, virtue, or reputation, or to hold the person or persons up to public ridicule.”

More insights: “An allegation is considered defamatory if it ascribes to a person the commission of a crime, the possession of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstances which tends to dishonor or discredit or put him in contempt, or which tends to blacken the memory of one who is dead.

There is publication if the material is communicated to a third person. It is not required that the person defamed has read or heard about the libelous remark. What is material is that a third person has read or heard the libelous statement, for “a man’s reputation is the estimate in which others hold him in, not the good opinion which he has of himself.”

If you’ve followed the way some users have abused the blogs, e-groups, social media in defaming other persons, and not just limited to public officials or celebrities, then you’ll have to admit that there should be a law to govern behavior on cyberspace. It’s also good that Filipinos are scrutinizing this Cybercrime Prevention Act in order to prevent its use for a possible suppression of our other rights.

* * *

Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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