Will the government hear the people sing?

With its term ending on June 30, the deeply-militarized Duterte regime definitely has failed to attain its declared objective that the President enunciated four years ago: “(F)inish off [the communist-led insurgency] and not let the next administration inherit it.”

In fact, Duterte and his national security team already acknowledged the failure last March. He expressed hope then that the next administration would continue what he had started through the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which he himself created and headed.

Throughout the May 9 elections campaign period, however, Duterte led the NTF-ELCAC in an extensive red-tagging offensive against the political opposition, particularly Vice President Leni Robredo, and more viciously against the Makabayan bloc. After the elections, the slander overdrive continued.

Recently, NTF-ELCAC vice chairperson Hermogenes Esperon Jr., as National Security Council (NSC) director, “requested” the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to order internet service providers to block public access to 28 websites of progressive organizations, including two independent news sites – Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.

Advocate-defenders of freedom of expression, here and abroad, protested and condemned the move, some urging the NTC to rescind the order it had promptly issued. Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly denounced it as “prior restraint against protected speech” based on Esperon’s “mere hearsay,” adding that it “sets a dangerous precedent for independent journalism in the Philippines.”

Esperon alleged the NSC found the website owners to be “affiliated to and are supporting terrorists and terrorist organizations.” He referred to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDF), which he noted had been declared as terrorist organizations by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), of which he is a member.

But neither the NSC nor the ATC has the authority to ban the websites, said the retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. “I think they are testing the limits of their power[s],” he speculated. He pointed out that most of the organizations whose websites were blocked could challenge the NTC order because the ATC hadn’t designated them as terrorists.

Picking up the issue, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) intends to raise it during a protest rally being planned for June 30. Gladly I yield the rest of this space to Bayan’s clear-cut, candid statement:

“The past few days have seen a concerted effort by the Philippine government to stifle free speech and the right to peaceably assemble.

“Not only does the State threaten peaceful protesters with arrest. It has also sought to take down websites that air legitimate issues. These are very disturbing developments as we head into the start of a second Marcos regime.

“The Philippines is in crisis and the people have a right to be heard. This is the reason why there will be a demonstration on June 30, the first day in office of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“Our people are demanding economic relief in light of rising fuel and food prices and the crushing tax burden imposed on Filipinos.

“Our people seek higher wages, decent jobs and the revival of the agriculture sector.

“Our people want an end to the regime of human rights violations and abuses and seek to hold the perpetrators accountable.

“Our people aspire for freedom from all forms of foreign intervention.

“The people also continue to seek answers to questions about the integrity of the 2022 elections.

“The people’s protest will be held at the historic Liwasang Bonifacio at 9 a.m. on June 30.

“Liwasang Bonifacio is a designated freedom park and does not require seeking a rally permit. The police should not interfere in the holding of a peaceful protest lest they face charges for violating constitutionally-guaranteed civil and political rights.

“The police should not occupy Liwasan and prevent peaceful protesters from gathering and airing their grievances.

“There should be no arrests made against peaceful demonstrators. Even the Marcos-era Batas Pambansa 880 explicitly says that no person should be punished for participating in an otherwise peaceful assembly.

“For weeks now, the Department of Local Government and the Philippine National Police have been pushing hard the narrative that there are plans to disrupt the inauguration [rites]. This underhanded and desperate move is intended to sow fear, undermine the legitimate protests and justify police action.

“There is no plot to disrupt the inauguration, contrary to the wild claims of this government. The Duterte regime is well known for inventing all sorts of ‘plots’ to justify state repression.

“We call your attention to the latest report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association, which was presented last June 20, 2022 to the UN Human Rights Council.

“‘Rather than seeing peaceful protests as a democratic means of participation, too often governments resort to repression to suppress protests and silence people’s voices,’ said Clement Voule, the UN Special Rapporteur. ‘States portray protests as threats to stability and as a trigger of crises. These are then used as pretext to clamp down on protest movements,’ the UN expert added.

“This is exactly how it is in the Philippines today.

“In its last days in office, the Duterte regime has gone full steam ahead in its suppression of dissent, this time casting a wide net to suppress everything that is ‘Left’ and portray the same as evil.

“Being Left on the political spectrum is perfectly correct and necessary in a democratic society. It is not a crime, nor is it wrong, most especially under the current worsening crisis.

“The outgoing Duterte regime is desperately trying to criminalize dissent and critical thinking by blocking websites, attacking the media and terrorizing our people into submission.

“We must put an end to this.

“We call on all the concerned sectors to stand together against the continuing wave of red-tagging and terrorist-labelling and to vigorously defend freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of association and the right to peaceably assemble.”

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

Published in Philippine Star
June 25, 2022

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