By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – On June 21, Bulatlat obtained from a reliable source a copy of a government order for all internet service providers to block the website of Bulatlat and 26 others, including fellow alternative news outlet Pinoy Weekly and progressive organizations.
Bulatlat has condemned this move as prior restraint against protected speech, adding that this is based on hearsay of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
“We raise the alarm that such arbitrary action sets a dangerous precedent for independent journalism in the Philippines,” the country’s longest-running online news said in a statement.
This report revisits what the public needs to know about the DNS blocking and what it means for press freedom in the Philippines.
1. How was DNS blocking on Bulatlat and 26 other websites discovered?
On June 17, 2022, Bulatlat received queries from its readers asking why its website was inaccessible. These were forwarded to its web host, Qurium Media Foundation, which confirmed that users of Smart Broadband as their internet service provider were faced with returning errors related to failing DNS resolution. In its initial investigation, Qurium found out that the last DNS request coming from Smart Broadband was recorded on the 16th June at 6:24 UTC. Simply put, the ISP deliberately blocked access to the website.
This prompted Bulatlat to write to PLDT/Smart, the National Telecommunications Commission, and the Department of Information and Communications over the apparent DNS blocking on June 20. A day after, on June 21, Bulatlat was able to get, through a reliable source, a copy of the NTC memorandum and the letter of National Security Adviser and retired general Hermogenes Esperon Jr. requesting the blocking of Bulatlat and 26 other websites of independent media and progressive organizations over allegations that they are “affiliated to and are supporting terrorists and terrorist organizations.”
2. What is DNS blocking?
A DNS (domain name server) block is a mechanism to prevent users from accessing suspicious websites. In this case, however, DNS blocking is being used for internet censorship, similar to what is implemented in Vietnam and Myanmar.
3. What did the NSC “request”?
In its letter, the National Security Council cited as basis for the DNS blocking three resolutions of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Council designating revolutionary organizations and alleged members of the Communist Party of the Philippines Central Committee as terrorists.
Esperon, in his capacity as National Security Adviser, “requested” for the blocking of the 27 websites (28 were listed because perhaps for emphasis, Bulatlat was listed twice), without laying the grounds nor presenting evidence.
4. What did NTC order?
Responding to the so-called request, the National Telecommunications Commission issued a June 8, 2022 “for strict and immediate compliance” order directing the immediate blocking of the reported websites. The NTC gave internet service providers no later than five days upon receipt of the order to carry out the blocking.
Bulatlat and the groups in the NSC list were never informed of the said blocking “request.”
5. Why is it questionable and unconstitutional?
There is no provision in the Anti-Terror Act nor in the Cybercrime Prevention Act which provides authority for the NTC to order the blocking of websites.
The NTC memo violates the right of Bulatlat and other groups to publish, and the people’s right to freedom of thought, free speech and free expression.
6. What does it mean for the Philippine independent news?
In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has denounced the blocking, adding that while reporting may be critical of the government, “it is dangerous to equate this with affiliation or support that the government now claims.”
“Blocking access to these sites leave a gap in discourse and in flow of information and highlights and threats posed by the Anti-Terrorism Act on the freedom of expression and on freedom of the press,” the NUJP said.