By JOSH AVENGOZA
MANILA — Online progressive news Bulatlat filed a motion for reconsideration today after the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 306 earlier denied its petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) memo blocking their website.
In the motion, Bulatlat argued that the memorandum filed by the NTC “is a content-based prior restraint on protected expression, which is unconstitutional” and Bulatlat “suffered from grave injustice or irreparable injury” from the implementation of the website blocking.
Last July 18, the alternative news outlet reiterated their call for the nullification of the block order from the NTC after the July 13 hearing where NTC, National Security Council (NSC), and former National Security Advisor and NSC Director Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr. defended their blocking order as lawful.
Bulatlat showed evidence of the grave damage inflicted by the block order such as the dwindling readership since the NTC issued the order, in which Bulatlat deemed to be “critical and, with due respect, quite the opposite of this Honorable Court’s observation that the same is “of no moment,” “irrelevant” and a mere “inconvenience.””
Even as the defendants showed in the July 13 hearing that they can access the website, Bulatlat proved that their website is still blocked in pursuance to the NTC order and its design to censor Bulatlat.com “has been succeeded to a significant extent”.
LOOK. Website visitors of https://t.co/7x4JmI369c dramatically decreased since June 8, 2022, the day the National Telecommunications Commission ordered the blocking of Bulatlat, @pinoyweekly and 26 other websites.
Help us amplify the call to #UnblockBulatlat and other websites. pic.twitter.com/q927Ud997v
— Bulatlat (@bulatlat) July 14, 2022
In her Judicial Affidavit, Bulatlat Managing Editor Ronalyn Olea testified that 43 percent of its monthly web visitors were lost since the issuance of the NTC memo.
Bulatlat also included evidence from various users through their screenshots proving that the website Bulatlat.com is blocked by their internet service provider.
— Bulatlat (@bulatlat) July 13, 2022
“It is indubitable that Bulatlat.com is not accessible to a significant section of the public. Hence, contrary to the Honorable Court’s finding, there is a clear suppression of Plaintiff’s constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” the motion reads.
Block order as unconstitutional
Aside from the drop of readers from the website, Bulatlat also asserted that the order is unconstitutional, citing that the blocking of websites is based on content that were “found to be affiliated to and supporting terrorists and terrorist organizations”, as the defendants claim.
“The assailed Memorandum is presumed unconstitutional and has been shown to be in breach of the rule, which recognizes no exception, that there can be no content-based prior restraint on protected expression,” the motion read.
The motion also stressed that there is no evidence of a present danger or any ground of substantial interest for the block order to be implemented, hence proving that the said order serves to censor Bulatlat.com.
“The vigilance with which the law guards freedom of the press and freedom of expression is a reflection of their “preferred status” in the hierarchy of rights and their being a necessary consequence of republican institutions… Breach of such rights can lead to greater evils, such that to allow them to be fettered is to fetter ourselves,” the motion read.
Bulatlat also reiterated that the NTC has no power to impose block orders based on content, and can only issue prior restraint orders on unprotected expressions as approved by the court.
Standing in solidarity
Rights group Karapatan, in a statement, stood in solidarity with Bulatlat, calling on the Quezon City court to reconsider the TRO denial.
The rights group said the blocking of websites of Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, and other progressive organizations is “brazen State censorship”.
“With every single day that their websites remain blocked, press freedom along with the constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression and the people’s fundamental right to information are imperiled, while censorship and repression are normalized. We cannot take these attacks sitting down,” the group said.
Karapatan also called on all Filipinos to defend press freedom in the country and stressed that independent journalism and political dissent are not forms of terrorism.