People’s initiative sought to repeal anti-cybercrime law
CEBU CITY — Instead of waiting for Congress to take down contentious provisions in the Cybercrime Prevention Act, the public has an option to launch a massive signature drive to introduce changes to the law, said a human rights lawyer on Friday.
University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque said the people can use this option if the Supreme Court (SC) fails to act favorably on at least 11 petitions seeking to declare as unconstitutional the vague provisions on online libel and restricted access to computer data found to have prima facie violation of Republic Act 10175, among others.
Roque was referring to Section 32, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, which states that Congress shall pass a law that will provide for a system of people’s initiative and referendum “whereby the people can directly propose and enact laws or approve or reject any act or law or part thereof passed by the Congress or local legislative body.”
Such power is embodied in Republic Act 6735 (The Initiative and Referendum Act), where the petition should be signed by at least 10 percent of the total registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three percent of the registered voters in that district.
The Philippines has over 200 legislative districts and a voting population of at least 50 million as of 2010, data from the National Statistical and Coordination Board (NSCB) show.
“The only thing I’m exploring now is to gather the signatures electronically and how the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will verify the signatures. If not, we can resort to physical signatures also through the Internet. We can just circulate it and people can download it, print it and probably mail it to a central address for verification if the Comelec will not really allow electronic signatures,” Roque said in an online discussion with Sun.Star editors.
Sun.Star tried to reach Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez but he was unavailable for comment.
But for Roque, there should be no reason at all for the poll body not to accept digital signatures in the verification process because the E-Commerce Act allows the use of digital signatures as alternative to written signatures.
“Because it’s automated now, I think the Comelec’s job has been made a lot easier because it’s the computer doing the count. I think there’s no hindrance but the question is can the netizens get 10 percent of all registered voters, including three percent of each legislative district. That’s the catch,” he said.
The people’s initiative was used by allies of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to revise the Constitution but the SC thrashed it in 2006 after taking into account allegations of fraud and deception in the gathering of signatures.
With lawmakers slowly being pre-occupied with election preparations, Roque cast doubt if Congress can pass the proposed measure to decriminalize libel. If at all, Roque said the bill will be taken up fully in the 16th Congress, which will open in July 2013.
Meantime, Roque supported the call of re-electionist Senator Alan Peter Cayetano not to vote for candidates who will not support the deletion of libel in the country’s penal system and amendment to the anti-cybercrime law, which took effect last Wednesday, October 3.
“I think it is no excuse for any of them (lawmakers who voted for the measure) to say that they have realized that they committed a mistake. With all the perks of a member of Congress, the least that they could do is to read the law and to study the basis for what it says so that if there will be any constitutionally infirm provision, they will not vote in favor of the law,” he said, adding the senators who promised to rectify the errors of the law showed unfitness for public office.
Roque, however, dismissed calls for the law to be scrapped altogether, saying it has provisions that can really help deter Internet-related crimes such as hacking, identity theft, phishing, data interference and cyber prostitution.
The human rights lawyer will meet 10 other petitioners on Saturday morning at the University of the Philippines College of Law to come up with a unified stand against the measure before the High Court. (SUNNEX)
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