Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Several government websites, including that of the National Food Authority (NFA), were defaced early yesterday the "hacktivist" group Anonymous Philippines, drawing attention to the cybercrime law.
The hacking took place a day before the Supreme Court holds oral arguments on the CyberCrime Prevention Act of 2012, or Republic Act No. 10175, which Anonymous Philippines said threatened freedom of expression.
The law became controversial because it criminalises online libel, among other things, angering journalists who have been campaigning for the decriminalisation of libel.
Shortly after President Aquino signed RA 10175 into law last September 12, the high tribunal suspended its implementation for four months until February after consolidating 15 petitions against it.
Early yesterday, Twitter users reported the hacking of the NFA website (nfa.gov.ph). The NFA, whose previous head is being linked to rice smuggling in the country, is an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala said in a phone interview early on Monday that while it was not known why the NFA website was targeted, those in charge of the website were tasked with restoring the system.
At 9:24am, Alcala said via text message that the website would be restored "soon". In about 30 minutes, the website was up and running again.
Also hacked were the websites of the National Maritime Polytechnic (nmp.gov.ph) and the municipality of Jose Panganiban (mambulao.gov.ph), formerly known as Mambulao, in Camarines Norte province.
In an operation called "#OccupyPhilippines," Anonymous Philippines left hacked pages with messages beginning with, "Protect our Right to Freedom of Expression!"
The message was still on the home page of Jose Panganiban town but it had been taken out of the NMP website as of press time.
The Cebu Port Authority (cpa.gov.ph) website did not have the message on it but the site was disabled throughout yesterday.
The Anonymous Philippines' message read in part: "1987 Philippine Constitution. Article III, Section 4 states that 'NO LAW SHALL BE PASSED ABRIDGING the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.'"
The group also said: "What happened to the law? Are all laws meant to be broken? Are they made to fool people, deprive them of their rights in exchange for what we believe as 'Heavens for Politicians'? Some say we are against the law because it would hinder our 'criminal activities,' but WE do not oppose the said law in any way, if it is for the greater good."
Not the first time
It was not the first time the group defaced government websites to draw attention to the controversial law. A number of petitioners said this would make it easier for authorities to spy on and/or harass citizens, especially critics, using electronic media.
Many critics of the cybercrime law have also alleged that legislation may have stemmed from criticisms against lawmakers in social media, particularly at the height of the plagiarism charges against Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto.
In September last year, the websites of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, the American Chamber of Commerce, the Philippine Anti-Piracy Team and the Agusan del Sur website were hacked by Anonymous Philippines.
Those of the Official Gazette, Senate and National Bureau of Investigation were either defaced or suffered denial-of-service attacks.
At the height of the outcry, many Facebook and Twitter users in the Philippines and the portals of some media organisations replaced their profile pictures with black screens in protest of the new law.
In October last year, the Supreme Court ordered that the implementation of the law be suspended until February 6 and set a January 15 hearing of petitioners' arguments. Fifteen petitions asked the high court to declare the law wholly or partially unconstitutional.
While the new law against cybercrime is suspended, authorities may deal with related cases using existing laws such as RA 8792 or the E-Commerce Act of 2000, RA 9995 or the Anti-Photo and Voyeurism Act of 2009, RA 9725 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, RA 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, RA 8484 or the Access Device Regulation Act of 1998 and RA 4200 or the Anti-Wiretapping Law.
A primer on cybercrimes committed in the country, which the Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier released, said nearly nine out of 10 Filipino Internet users have been victimised by "cybercrime" or malicious activity on the Internet.
The primer was prepared by the DOJ as part of its advocacy programme to prevent abuses in cyberspace as the legality of the new law against cybercrime is being deliberated in the Supreme Court.
The law, according to petitioners, violates citizens' constitutional rights, including freedom of speech, right to privacy, protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, due process, equal protection and protection against double jeopardy.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will give those questioning the suspended Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 a chance to make their case heard.
Five lawyers are set to tackle certain provisions in the first oral arguments to be presided over by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno since her appointment as head of the judiciary last August.
It will be the turn of the solicitor general to argue for the law's continued implementation on January 22.
10 minutes each
Under the guidelines and advisory on how the oral arguments will be done, five petitioners/counsels are assigned to speak on specific issues. Each will have 10 minutes to make their presentations. The high court issued the guidelines last week.
Tuesday's speakers are University of the Philippines law professors Harry Roque and Jesus Disini Jr., Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, Philippine Bar Association legal counsel Rodel Cruz and National Union of People's Lawyers representative Julius Matibag.
Roque said he would ask the high court if it could allow Sen. Teofisto Guingona III to make an opening statement before the oral arguments.
Among the provisions to be tackled include that which criminalises online libel and the so-called take-down policy in the law that will allow the DOJ to block or restrict a website found to be violating the cybercrime law.
All speakers will be asked whether the provisions they will be discussing violate constitutional rights such as those on due process of law and freedom of expression.
"The rest of the issues raised by the various parties that are not covered by the oral arguments shall be heard on written memorandum by the petitioners concerned," the advisory said.