PHILIPPINES: Freedom of Speech Gets a Criminal Record

The Philippines has introduced yet another law restricting freedom of speech, causing the Human Right Watch (HRW) to call for an appeal.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act, which was signed into law by President Aquino earlier this September, drastically increases punishment for criminal libel, raising the minimum sentence twelve-fold, from six months to six years in prison. The maximum punishment has doubled from six to twelve years.

Aside from the section on libel, the new law has a provision that grants excessive and unchecked powers to the Department of Justice, which on its own and without a warrant, can order the shutdown of any website it finds violating the law. It also authorizes police to collect computer data in real time without a court order or warrant.

The Human Rights Watch called on the Filipino government to repeal the law but the Aquino administration has shown little inclination to support legislation pending in the Philippine Congress to decriminalize libel.

The HRW also calls attention to the chilling effect of the criminal defamation laws currently in place. When citizens face prison time for complaining about official performance, corruption, or abusive business practices, others take notice and are less inclined to draw attention to such problems themselves, undermining effective governance and civil society.

These laws, along with a pending Freedom of Information bill that has yet to be passed, leave a serious blot on the country’s record of press freedom.

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