Bills on confidentiality, cybercrime could threaten press freedom

Apparently not contented with the growing body count of murdered journalists and media workers, those who would seek to silence the independent Philippine press have also been advancing their insidious aim by crafting laws that, if enacted, will erect a wall of silence and onerous penalties around the profession of truth-telling.

Congress is on the verge of passing a data privacy bill that would jail reporters and news executives and slap hefty fines on them for “breach of confidentiality.”

Section 30 (Breach of Confidentiality) of Senate Bill 2965, principally authored by Senator Edgardo Angara, provides: The penalty of imprisonment ranging from two years and four months to five years and a fine not less than P500,000 but not more than P2 million shall be imposed in case of a breach of confidentiality where such breach has resulted in the information being published or reported by media. In this case, the responsible reporter, writer, president, publisher, manager and editor-in-chief shall be liable under this Act.”

This provision is clearly intended to prevent journalists from performing their duties of delivering timely, relevant and accurate information to the public in the service of the people’s right to know.

While we agree that the privacy of citizens should be protected, we are concerned that, especially in the wake of the historic impeachment trial of Renato Corona, those who live in mortal fear of transparency might twist this measure into providing more cover for the fortunes they have amassed through crime and corruption.

And in the House of Representatives, Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Jay Velasco, a member of the majority, has been busy authoring bills raising the penalties for libel, slander and “intriguing against honor.”

There too is the recently passed House Bill No. 5808, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 that, while unarguably needed, contains, in Section 4, the vaguely worded paragraph: “All crimes defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special criminal laws committed by, through and with the use of information and communications technologies shall be covered by the relevant provisions of this Act.” Given how our laws have often been cavalierly interpreted and implemented, we are concerned that this measure might be used to clamp down on freedom of expression and information on the Internet through the imposition of penalties for “cyber-libel.”

What is most telling about this is that this has been taking place even as Congress continues to twiddle its thumbs on the Freedom of Information and the libel decriminalization bills and without the sector that would be most affected by these measures – the press – and, by extension, the public it serves being informed.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines demands that any and all attempt to enact legislation that will narrow the parameters of press freedom, of freedom of expression and of the people’s right to know be immediately withdrawn or subjected to open and transparent amendments, with the full participation of all those who might be adversely affected by such measures.

We call on our colleagues and on the people to keep a close watch on developments and immediately oppose all attempt to curtail our rights and our freedoms.


Nestor P. Burgos Jr.

Chairman, NUJP

Rowena C. Paraan

Secretary-General, NUJP