By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA — Lawyers who previously represented the Philippine government in cases against human rights defenders have entered their appearance as counsels for the National Security Council (NSC) as the trial seeking to unblock 27 websites began today, June 15.
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) Legal Cooperation Cluster members, led by Assistant Solicitors General Angelita Villanueva-Miranda and Karen Ong, now represent incumbent NSA Eduardo Año.
Last year, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued an order to block web access to Bulatlat— along with fellow alternative media outfits Pinoy Weekly and Arkibong Bayan, and 24 other sites. The trial, however, began only today as the case was raffled to another court after the previous judge inhibited from the case.
Meanwhile, former national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. earlier asked the court to be exonerated from the case and requested that he be substituted by the current NSA as a defendant. Esperon was not represented by a lawyer in today’s hearing. This is despite his petition still pending before the court.
Bulatlat, through its lawyers from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), also opposed Esperon’s petition that would allow him to weasel out of accountability.
“Esperon is being sued in his personal capacity and acted beyond his mandate,” NUPL’s Frank Lloyd Tiongson said during the hearing.
Additionally, both counsels of NTC and NSC filed separate motions for summary judgment, stating that both NSC and Esperon are entitled to be dismissed from the complaint since there is “no genuine issue to any material fact related to the defendants.”
Their counsels argued that there is no issue presented in the case involving NTC and Esperon that would require the presentation of evidence and all the subsequent hearings for the case.
They claimed that further presentation of evidence will only drag them to hearings when this may be resolved with the facts, admissions, and evidence already stipulated in the pre-trial brief.
Judge Manodon decided to first resolve the motion for substitution, and the comment-opposition filed by Bulatlat for the inhibition of Judge Bolante-Prado before proceeding. Bulatlat, through its lawyers, will file its comment to the motions within 15 days.
“Democracy necessitates that everyone has access to the rule of law, human rights, and free communication and discussion. We call on the court to take a step in the right direction and take action to establish an environment in which independent media can grow without limitation or intervention,” said AlterMidya in a statement.
The next hearing is set on September 7.
Bulatlat editor-in-chief Ronalyn V. Olea said that NTF-ELCAC’s involvement in the case is “not surprising” since the website blocking of Bulatlat and 26 other websites was done because the government deemed them as “affiliated to and are supporting terrorists and terrorist organizations.”
NNTF-ELCAC’s Legal Cooperation Cluster, headed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), focuses on “enhancing the policies the policy direction, and capacity building strategies through the fortification of the legal arms of all the agencies and units of the government to put an end to the communist armed conflict.”
“Today’s hearing shows that there is a concerted effort to silence truth-tellers and human rights defenders,” Olea said.
She said that the blocked websites have the right to freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of the press as enshrined in the Philippine Constitution.
“Año, the NSC, and the Office of Solicitor General want to make it appear that the state-perpetrated censorship is justified. Bulatlat condemns this kind of narrative. Cyber censorship has no place in a democracy,” Olea added. (JJE)