“No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances”.
This is the line, provided under Article 3 of the Bill of Rights Section 4, that protects our right to express our thoughts and opinions about our government. As citizens of a democratic nation, we are free to say what we think of how our government officials are doing, whether positive or negative, without fear of getting imprisoned or criminalized.
Or so we thought, until last September 12, when the Cybercrime Prevention Act was signed by the President. Everything seems to be okay at first glance, as it targets computer hacking, identity theft, forgery and child pornography. But when you get to the fourth content-related offense in Section 4 of RA 10175, things get a little unconstitutional.
What the libel clause of the law means to do, in plain and simple terms, is gag the people. Contrary to what some people think, it includes everyone, not just journalists. The clause means to stop anyone from complaining or from airing out any bad assessments of the government, as these can be classified as libel. Libel is defined as “the 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 cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person…” in the Revised Penal Code. What’s even worse is that the law is tagged as mala prohibita, as distinguished from mala in se. As written in Ateneo School of Law professor Atty. Mel Sta. Maria’s article, for mala in se, the intention to do wrong is an essential element. However, for mala prohibita laws, which include libel, there need not be a criminal mind. The mere perpetuation of the prohibited act is enough. Merely liking a status or photo about a politician who wrote a law that disregards constitutional rights can be deemed as libelous and can put you in jail.
The libel clause in the law simply shows the type of people we have sitting in the government of our supposedly “democratic” country. They have shown that democracy is a mere tag and they have no pretensions about it. Democracy is supposed to be a government by the people. By passing this law, the very essence of democracy has been thrown out the window and right at the faces of the Filipinos. The question that remains now is this: are we going to remain silent now that our rights are taken blatantly from us? Are we simply going to accept this and live with it? What we need is collective action that will remind the government who the bosses are. They don’t get to repress us and get away with it. We get to say stop when things go too far. Because in this democratic country, and as the President said himself, we are the bosses!