By DOMINIQUE FLORES
MANILA – The Philippines’s longest running online news outfit is seeking to nullify the National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC) memorandum ordering internet service providers to block Bulatlat and 26 other websites over alleged terror links.
Bulatlat filed a civil case at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court earlier today, seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) and the nullification of NTC’s order.
The media outfit argued that the NTC memo violates their right to freedom of the press and due process of law.
“The blocking of a website is not sanctioned by the ATA [Anti-Terror Act] as one of the consequences of being designated as a terrorist. Besides, the NTC has no power … to order the blocking of a website of an entity alleged to be ‘affiliated to’ or ‘supporting terrorists and terrorist organizations’ without judicial imprimatur,” the 11-page complaint read.
Bulatlat asserted that both the Executive Order No. 546 and Republic Act No. 7925 state that the NTC does not have the “power to block the websites listed in the said Memorandum … without securing a court order.”
Members of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers assisted Bulatlat in the filing of the complaint.
Last June 6, former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. began taking steps to block access to 26 websites. He wrote the request to NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Asis Cordoba, and the memorandum was released two days later, particularly ordering “all concerned internet service providers to immediately block reported websites found to be affiliated to and are supporting terrorists and terrorist organizations.”
While Esperson cited the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) as justification to NTC’s order, Bulatlat argued that it is neither a designated terrorist entity nor an organization with ties to one, therefore making the memo invalid.
“The NTC order finds no basis in law. No where in the ATA of 2020 has the NTC, the National Security Adviser, the National Security Council or the Anti-Terrorism Council been given the power to block cybertraffic nor content data more so if based on reckless suspicions of terrorist activities nor due to conclusory claims of alleged affiliations with designated individuals or groups,” NUPL said in a statement.
Should the request for a TRO and/or writ of preliminary injunction be approved, Bulatlat will be protected from any attempts of the NTC to arrange and perform threatened actions. It would also prohibit the government agency from repeating the illegal order.
“The blocking measure imposed through Defendant NTC’s 08 June 2022 Memorandum constitutes censorship and prior restraint or subsequent punishment, as the case may be, on the past, present, and future news as well as editorial content of Bulatlat.com,” the media outfit said.
Bulatlat has been publishing stories on marginalized sectors in the country since 2001, championing human rights reporting. It has long been targeted by the state, facing red-tagging, cyber-attacks, and other forms of media repression for the past four years. The alternative media outfit also said that the NTC order is “part of the ongoing efforts to discredit the Philippine media.”
“We fight back against this new form of censorship. We stand with our colleagues in the independent media in asserting our right to publish, and the people’s right to access relevant, timely and factual information,” Bulatlat’s managing editor Ronalyn Olea said. (JJE, RVO)