It was the government’s turn last Tuesday to defend the Cybercrime Prevention Act. Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza single handedly defended the law. The Justices grilled him for at least three and a half hours straight. Almost all of the questions of the magistrates focused on libel and Section 12 of the law, which authorizes law enforcement agents to gather or collect real-time data.
Justice Roberto Abad fired the opening salvo. He observed that while the government has argued that libel is not being penalized for the first time under the new law, Congress must still be presumed to have a purpose for including libel as a content-related offense under the new law. Justice Abad theorized that it must be to make it clear that defamatory statements in the Internet had to be expressly declared by Congress as now capable of being punished as libel. The
Sol-Gen countered that what Congress did was merely to provide publication in the Internet as a qualifying circumstance. He argued that cyber libel was the only offense under the new law that was not subject to a higher penalty, a conclusion that was disputed not just by Justice Abad, but also by Justices Teresita De Castro and Justice Diosdado Peralta. All of them asked the government to show where in the new law this exception may be found. The Sol-Gen then, responding to a question from Justice Abad, opined that reposting a libelous post on Facebook may be subject also to a libel prosecution, but pressing the “Like” button may not be as the latter may represent only an opinion. Justice Abad though observed that while the Solicitor-General has opinions on these matters, the reality is because of the uncertainty on the legal consequences of reposting and liking, this may lead to the chilling of the rights of the citizens to express themselves on facebook.
Justice Antonio Carpio reiterated his view that the current jurisprudence on libel recognizing the actual malice rule in New York Times vs. Sullivan has rendered the libel provisions of the Revised
Penal Code as unconstitutional. Justice Marvic Leonen then asked why Congress, despite the jurisprudence, insisted on a cross-reference to Art. 355 of the Revised Penal Code despite the fact that this provision literally runs counter to jurisprudence. He then asked if the Court should not make a declaration that Sec 4(C) 4 of the cyberlaw is unconstitutional to highlight the distinction between the codal provision on libel in the RPC and jurisprudence. He asked: “may it be that the RTC Judge who convicted Adonis applied the language of the RPC and not the jurisprudence on actual malice?”
Anent the collection of real-time data, there appears to be consensus amongst the Justices that without judicial intervention, the section may lead to an invasion of privacy. Justice Antonio Carpio asked the Sol-Gen how he would feel if the government procures a record of his phone history from his phone company without his consent and whether this would be constitutional. The Sol-Gen replied: “constitutional but barely”, highlighting that these phone records would be “external” information for which there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. What the right covers would be the content of these individual calls, which he described as “internal” information. But where the Justices had great misgivings was on “due cause” as basis for the collection of the real time data. Justice Carpio elicited an admission from the government that it is uncertain who will determine that “due cause” exists. The Sol-Gen opined that it should be the law enforcement agency itself. Moreover, Justice Carpio bewailed why law enforcement agencies want to take a short cut. In his words, law enforcement agents “can always go to a Judge for a warrant”. He even said that the
Supreme Court could even designate Judges to act on these applications for warrants. Justice De Castro observed the absence of a definition of “due cause” which in turn, Justice Mariano Del Castillo said might be “subject to abuse”.
There too were important points raised on cybersex. The Sol-Gen explained that the legislative intent of the provisions against cybersex was to penalize prostitution on the Internet and trafficking
and not to punish obscenity. Justice Abad inquired why the law did not mention prostitution and trafficking in the language of the law. Justice Reyes also asked if the cyber law’s provision on “luring” is superfluous given that the same is already punished in a special statute.
Pursuant to tradition, the Chief Justice asked the last questions. She observed that almost all of the questioned provisions of the law are found in the section on “content related offenses” and that these provisions appeared to be “forced insertions”. She was comparing the “loose” language of these provisions with the very precise language of the other offenses such as cyber squatting. She then asked if there was a way of saving the legislation even if the questioned provisions were
to be declared unconstitutional. The Sol-Gen responded that under the principle of separation of powers, the clear intent of Congress is to penalize all those acts classified as content related offenses.
I received a tweet asking if the nation should now say “kudos” to the Supreme Court. Well, my reply is: too soon. My oral argument against the cyberlaw was my 10th opportunity to argue before the Court. The lesson I’ve learned is this: Never celebrate until the decision is actually handed down.
Lets continue to pray and hope that the supremacy of the Constitution will once more be upheld.
In an en banc resolution signed by its clerk of court, the Supreme Court reversed itself on the issue of live media coverage of the Ampatuan massacre case. In its earlier decision, the court belittled the accused’s argument that live coverage will imperil his right to be presumed innocent since it will amount to a trial by publicity and would result in a pre-judgment.
In its earlier decision penned by now Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, the high court ruled that such fear is unfounded as it is not supported by any empirical study. It then applied the constitutional commitment to freedom of the press and ordered live coverage, saying that the sheer number of victim families (58), the number of accused (196), and witnesses could not be accommodated in the courtroom. But more importantly, it recognized the neutrality of media coverage. According to the court: “Indeed, the Court cannot gloss over what advances technology has to offer in distilling the abstract discussion of key constitutional precepts into the workable context. Technology per se has always been neutral. It is the use and regulation thereof that need fine-tuning. Law and technology can work to the advantage and furtherance of the various rights herein involved, within the contours of defined guidelines.”
But in its decision dated October 23, 2012 with no indication of who the ponente of the decision was, the court reverted to the prior jurisprudence of in Re: Live TV and Radio Coverage of the Hearing of President Corazon C. Aquino’s Libel Case, which ruled:
“Experience likewise has established the prejudicial effect of telecasting on witnesses. Witnesses might be frightened, play to the camera, or become nervous. They are subject to extraordinary out-of-court influences that might affect their testimony. Also, teledesting not only increases the trial judge’s responsibility to avoid actual prejudice to the defendant, it may as well affect his own performance. Judges are human beings also and are subject to the same psychological reactions as laymen. For the defendant, telecasting is a form of mental harassment and subjects him to excessive public exposure and distracts him from the effective presentation of his defense. x x x The television camera is a powerful weapon which intentionally or inadvertently can destroy an accused and his case in the eyes of the public.”
Of course, as one of the private prosecutors in the case, I view this recent ruling as a setback to freedom of the press and to the cause of transparency. In jurisdictions that used to ban live coverage, the concern was the influence of publicity to lay people who sit as jurors in criminal proceedings. In contrast, in our system, the issue of guilt or innocence is made by a judge with impeccable credentials in the law and in the rules of evidence.
But more importantly, even in jurisdictions with the jury system—which include all the States in the United States except for the District of Columbia, the United Kingdom, and even international tribunals such as the International Criminal Court—now allow live television coverage borne of their experience that other than lack of empirical evidence that live media coverage is prejudicial to the accused, their respective jurisdictions also recognize the right of the people to information on matters concerning public concerns. In all these jurisdictions, criminal prosecution is vested public interest since all crimes are committed against the people of a state. In other words, all jurisdictions which now allow live media coverage of trials have engaged in a balancing of interest test and tilted the scale of justice in favor of the public’s right to press freedom and the right of the people to information.
While the court, in its second decision, ordered the showing of live feed of the proceedings in court rooms in Mindanao, such a decision contemplates that only the private complainants have an interest to witness the proceeding of the “trial of the century”.
With all due respect, this is a myopic view of who were victimized by the massacre. While the 58 families may be the only ones with standing to claim monetary damages as a result of the massacre, the fact that at least 33 of the victims, including the 15 families that we represent, are media practitioners have given the entire country a right to witness the proceedings. In the words of UN Special Rapporteur Franck La Rue, the killing of a journalist is prima facie an affront on freedom of the press. While the Court’s second order may enable the private complainants based in Mindanao to witness the prosecution, what happens to the 100 million Filipinos and the rest of the world who have the right to protect and promote freedom of the press?
By now, too, it should be public knowledge that because I have seen the trailer, I was able to form a judgment that the controversial film is nothing but garbage. But unless I viewed it, I would not know what is in it. Hence, I would not be able to opine, as I do now, that it is trash.
This is the foundation of freedom of expression. It is only in the market place of ideas that we can discern what the truth is. It is only here that we are able to form opinions which, taken collectively, becomes the ever powerful public opinion.
The ground invoked by the UP administration in seeking to cancel the showing of the trailer was the safety of the students. There were text messages circulating that a group of rallyist consisting of no less than a thousand people were on their way to the UP campus in Diliman to protest the showing. The text also said that the UP police force does not have the required manpower to maintain peace and order in case the demonstration should push through.
Of course anyone can resort to peaceful rallies to make their beliefs known. As held by our Court in Primicias vs. Fugoso, our streets have since time immemorial been held in trust for use of the people, among others, to make public their grievances. But should this be a basis to limit two important democratic freedoms, to wit, the freedom of expression and academic freedom? My decision to proceed with film showing was my personal conviction on the matter: Certainly not!
I concede that freedom of expression is not absolute. It is limited primarily where there is a clear and present danger that the state has a right to prevent. The concern was that the same kind of hysteria that was shown against the film in Libya and Egypt may erupt in the Philippines were I to show the film in class. But as was borne by our experience after the film was shown, there was absolutely no untoward incident that happened.
In the first place, the showing was in a classroom in a class on the Bill of Rights. What better way to teach the nuances of freedom of expression but allow the students to judge for themselves whether to accept the ideas expressed by a controversial film? Moreover, the fact that the UP administration sought to stop the showing of the film was a pedagogical tool on the true nature of rights: They are not given in a silver platter.
I concede that a further exception to protected speech is hate speech. In Chaplin ski v. New Hampshire, the US Supreme Court ruled that there are “certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include x x x insulting or ‘fighting’ words, those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” The test according to the Court, is “what men of common intelligence would understand would be words likely to cause an average addressee to fight . . .”
The problem with hate speech as a limitation to freedom of speech is that you need hate speech legislation to begin with. In the absence of such, them maxim “nullum crimen, nulla puena, sine legue” apply. There can be no crime where there is no law making conduct criminal. In the absence of Philippine legislation on hate speech, freedom of expression cannot be infringed on this basis.
Unless there be any misunderstanding, I do not endorse the message of film as in fact, I consider it to be garbage. It is however the right to see it so that I can make my own judgment that is protected by the Constitution.
And to those who say I did it in support of election, let me be very clear: I am not standing for any elective position. Full stop.
I did it because like Justice Homes, I believe in freedom of expression: “When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market…”