One day in the summer of 2000, the Philippines unexpectedly got into the world spotlight when a young Filipino college student launched what is dubbed as the most destructive malware since the start of the Internet era--the ILOVEYOU virus.
The man suspected to have authored it, Onel de Guzman, was arrested and charged with an old law penalizing unauthorized access on credit cards and bank ATMs. He was eventually released as there was no applicable legislation at that time which clearly governed this new type of offense.
But guess what? Seven years since that infamous incident where US$5.5 billion was estimated to have been incurred in damages in downed e-mail systems worldwide, including those of the Pentagon, CIA, and the British Parliament, the Philippines has yet to craft a law that strictly identifies cybercrimes.
Yes, the country does have an E-commerce Law (Republic Act No. 8792), whose passage in June 2000 was hastened by the ILOVEYOU fame, but this piece of legislation delves mostly on the admissibility of electronic evidence and some penalties on copyright infringements and hacking.
However, it is silent on important concerns that have started to proliferate lately such as cybersex and child trafficking, as well as online gambling. This is, perhaps, one of the reasons why thousands of our women are still being lured by unscrupulous foreigners to engage in this degrading and illegal activity.
On hindsight, I now see the E-commerce Law--though lauded at that time of its approval by deposed president Joseph Estrada--as something haphazardly done due to the pressure brought by the ILOVEYOU worm's worldwide notoriety and the fact that the Philippines was by then starting to market itself as an prime outsourcing destination.
It was, therefore, with keen interest that I attended a recent workshop sponsored by the Philippine subsidiary of Microsoft as it gathered various sectors of the local IT industry to push and lobby for a strong bill on cybercrime. The software firm took the initiative in organizing the event apparently because its products are the target or the ones being used to perpetuate online crimes.
Anyway, the affair featured speakers from the private and public sectors, including Representative Joseph Santiago of the island province of Catanduanes. Although I personally don't like this grandstanding guy, who never fails to emphasize his position as chair of the Committee on ICT in Congress and as former chief of the National Telecommunications Commission, I stayed to hear some interesting points on his views on cybercrime.
According to him, it's ironic that the Constitution of the Philippines prohibits the concept of "convergence"--in media and technologies, I presume--as a mechanism against potential monopolistic practices. This principle, he said, is somehow preventing Congress from enacting a sweeping legislation that would tackle cybercrime in whatever form and setting.
Nonetheless, there had been attempts in the last two year to introduce anti-cybercrime bills in Congress. None have been successful so far. "Congress seems to have forgotten to look into these proposed laws that is why a number of new crimes have also been created."
According to Santiago, he has scheduled the two proposed laws currently pending at the chamber, for hearing at the committee level so it can be consolidated into a single bill. One bill focuses on cybersex while the other one examines the country's compliance with international regulations such as that of the Budapest Convention.
At the workshop, participants gave their insights and comments for the proposed laws, particularly non-duplicity with existing legislations. Santiago acknowledged this as big help in fine-tuning the provisions of the bill so it can have a better chance of being signed into law.
The ball is now in the hands of Congress.