FREEDOM WON 28 years ago. Freedoms lost last week.

Media organizations and netizens mark the 28th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolt with a Black Tuesday campaign to protest the Cyber Libel provision of Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

The Supreme Court last week declared the Cyber Libel provision of R.A. 10175 as constitutional, effectively expanding the coverage of the country’s 80-year old libel law into the digital domain.

Media and online groups have protested the ruling, saying the decision reverses what already appeared to be a libertarian trend in the courts in the interpretation of libel laws.

Libel is defined in Article 323 of the Revised Penal Code as a criminal offense, punishable with both a prison term and damages. Media and lawyers groups have been pushing for the decriminalization of libel, saying the law has been used to harass and cow the Philippine press.

In addition, the Philippines is unique in that an allegedly libelous statement is presumed to be malicious until proven otherwise by the accused. This implies that the accused is already presumed to be guilty until he proves himself innocent before the courts.

Exactly a week ago today, Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of R.A. 10175’s cyber libel provision, which recognizes that libel can be committed online, but only by the original authors and producers of the material. Not included in the crime of cyber libel are those who receive or respond to the material.

At the same time the Tribunal struck down several provisions of the law as unconstitutional, particularly the “take-down” clause which would have allowed the government to deny or restrict access to digital hardware and material even without a warrant, and the real-time collection of traffic data.

The decision came exactly a week before the nation commemorates the 28th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolt, when press freedom was restored in the country.

Media organizations have pointed out that the Cybercrime Act and the SC ruling on the law effectively reverses many of the freedoms gained in EDSA by unduly restricting freedom of expression and freedom of the press even in the internet.

To mark this day, online groups and media organizations including the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, have declared today as Black Tuesday.

The groups are launching this noon an online protest to ask the Supreme Court to reverse its ruling on cyber libel, and to press legislators to amend the libel provisions in Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code.

At noon today, Feb. 25, the media groups will release several memes to show their opposition to cyber libel, and to highlight the regression of basic freedoms that had been won in 1986.

Several groups will also be assembling at the EDSA People Power Shrine at 3 p.m. today to make their voices heard, online and offline.

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