By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA — The hearing for the case Bulatlat filed against the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the National Security Commission (NSC) and former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. starts again on June 15 under a new judge.
The case stemmed from an NTC memorandum on June 8, 2022 ordering all internet service providers in the Philippines to block 27 websites “found to be affiliated to and are supporting terrorists and terrorist organizations.”
These blocked websites included news media organizations Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.
The NTC received a “request” from then National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. It proceeded to issue the memorandum “for strict and immediate compliance” and gave internet service providers no later than five days upon receipt of the order to carry out the blocking.
The case so far
Bulatlat, through its publisher Alipato Media Center Inc. and with their counsel from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), filed a complaint seeking for the nullification of the NTC order.
The media outfit filed a civil case at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court on July 8, 2022 seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) and the nullification of NTC’s order.
The TRO was denied on July 13, 2022. Following the decision, Bulatlat filed a motion for reconsideration on July 22, 2022 and argued that the NTC’s memorandum is a content-based prior restraint on free expression which makes it unconstitutional. The motion eventually became moot after the Quezon City court granted the preliminary injunction which lifted the blocking order on Bulatlat. A bond of P100,000 ($1,780) was paid to the court, following an online microdonation drive of the online alternative news outfit.
Esperon, for his part, asked the Quezon City court to exonerate him and requested that the current NSA head replace him as a defendant to the case. This is still up for decision.
The NTC, on the other hand, has asked Presiding Judge Dolly Rose Bolante-Prado to inhibit from the case for allegedly showing “bias and partiality” in favor of Bulatlat. Prado consequently agreed to inhibit from the case even if Bulatlat, through its counsel, filed for a motion for reconsideration which remains pending as of this writing.
In an order dated last May 11, Bulatlat was informed that the case had been raffled again, with the first hearing under a new judge scheduled on June 15.
Organizations included in the list of blocked websites have released their own statements, denouncing the continuing censorship.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said that restricting the websites will not silence the people’s clamor for change.
“The enemies of truth and purveyors of disinformation may think that blocking websites is an effective tool, but it actually exposes the undemocratic governance, irrational paranoia, and tyrannical bent of the Marcos Jr presidency,” the group said in a statement.
“The sustained blocking is a violation, not only of the right to free press but also the right to organization,” Ariel Casilao, the acting chairperson of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said.
The group added that the continued denial of public access to the websites is a brash defiance to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) explicit recommendation that “the practice of red tagging should stop.” Red-tagging as union-busting had been a central concern of the ILO’s High-Level Tripartite Mission last January.
Pinoy Weekly said that since the blocking the news outfit had been utilizing the internet and other social media websites to post stories and important information to the public more efficiently.
“It’s been a year since the marginalized Filipinos were prevented from reading their stories on our website. But we will not be stopped nor will we be afraid and silenced,” said the news outfit in a statement. “We will continue to publish the truth, and the stories of ordinary Filipinos.”
Bulatlat reiterated that the website blocking is a form of state-perpetrated censorship that violated not only the right to publish, but also the right of the marginalized, and oppressed sectors to free speech and expression.
“The Marcos Jr. administration has not lifted the NTC memorandum, and its supporters continue to engage in arbitrary labeling of individuals and groups as communists and terrorists,” Bulatlat editor-in-chief Ronalyn Olea said.
She added that NTC’s move only proves how the Anti-Terrorism Council can curtail fundamental human rights and that the reckless labeling of groups as “terrorists” or “terrorist-friendly” is an attempt to muzzle critical voices. “Such an act should not have a place in a democracy.”