MANILA, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago rallied netizens on Thursday to act against what she described as “erroneous” decision of the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of online libel.
Santiago said a motion for reconsideration could be filed against online libel or the Senate could pass a new Anti-Cybercrime measure that will in effect overturn the SC’s decision. Either way, the senator vowed to give her full support to the new measure.
“I humbly submit that the Supreme Court ruling on this particular provision is erroneous and I call on all netizens to magnify all our efforts and to speed it up as soon as possible so that we can either file a motion for reconsideration with respect to this particular libel provision or we can speed it up here in the Senate on that new law that I have filed from crowdsourcing,’ she said at a press conference in the Senate.
Aside from filing a motion for reconsideration in court, Santiago said netizens may also stage protest or mass demonstrations to protest the SC’s decision but cautioned them against directly attacking the high tribunal.
“If you review the decisions of the Supreme Court, if you call other agencies name, the Supreme Court say we uphold freedom of speech. If you call the SC names, the SC will say we hold you in contempt. So that’s the risk you will run,” the senator said in jest.
Under the Constitution, Santiago said, the freedom of speech “occupies the highest ranking in the hierarchy of values of the Bill of Rights’’.
“So that must stand for something. It’s the very first provision. It says no law should be passed abridging the freedom of speech, the freedom of press and the cognate rights of individuals and groups within our society,” she said.
And in case of doubt, the senator said, the “doubt must be resolved in favor of freedom and against restriction.”
Santiago said the SC decision also violates two widely accepted principles of constitutional law – the “void for vagueness doctrine” and the “overbreadth doctrine.”
Explaining the first doctrine, the senator said the provision on online libel was “so vague that you hardly know who are covered by it.”
“Although the Supreme Court said it is only the sender, who is liable not the person who is commenting or who is receiving, but what does this word mean? Who is the sender? The service provider? The
individual netizen?” she asked.
“Or if they are a group, how are we identifying them? Or even worse, if they are not using their true identities, how are you going to go beyond what they profess to be their identities in the Internet? That is the main problem today,” she pointed out.
Santiago lamented that the Supreme Court is treating social media “as if it were just a scion or a successor or just another classification of traditional media.”
“It is not! So here we have a case that unfortunately appears to be jurisprudence preying after technology because of lack of information about how the Internet operates in society,” she said.
She said the language of the law that has been upheld by the high tribunal was so vague that “it becomes illegal since it is a very significant constraint on the preferred freedom of all in the entire Bill of Rights, freedom of expression or freedom of speech.”
Santiago said the basic principle of the “overbreadth” doctrine, meanwhile, provides that the law should be confined within “very strict limits.”
But the online libel provision of the law, she said, “makes the field so wide open.”
“It’s certainly like the void for vagueness doctrine that you no longer have any clear voice or signals on where the line ends and begins,” she pointed out.
Santiago also questioned the practicality of imposing criminal liability for online libel, citing the already populated prisons in the country.
“It will add to the burgeoning prison population of this country. We are spending taxpayers’ money to sustain these prisoners and then you add up more people to populate the prisons because of libel?” she asked.
“You have this question of practicality. Is it practical? How many people are you sending, how many people are using the Internet every day, day-to-day?” she further asked.