By JEANNELLE UNGRIANO
MANILA — Nearly two years after the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered the blocking of 27 websites, progressive organizations and media outfits called on United Nations Special Rapporteur on Free Expression and Opinion Irene Khan to push for a stop to state censorship and the repeal of Anti-Terror Act (ATA).
In June 2022, the NTC issued a memorandum directing the blocking of 27 websites as requested by the former National Security Adviser (NSA) Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on claims that they promote terrorism and linking them to alleged terrorist groups. The memorandum includes the barring of websites of grassroots groups and alternative media outlets like Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.
Read: Bulatlat seeks to nullify NTC order on blocking of website
Read: Esperon should remain as defendant in website blocking case, says Bulatlat
Read: Int’l media groups stand in solidarity with Bulatlat over website blocking
On Monday, January 29, members of media outlets and progressive groups held a protest in front of the NTC and then marched to the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) to denounce the continuing censorship.
Unblock the truth
Marc Lino Abila, editor in chief of Pinoy Weekly, stressed that they will not stop fighting for press freedom. He said that the blocking order is “an obvious tactic of the state to undermine our freedom of speech and the press, particularly in alternative media and progressive organizations.”
“The NTC is an agency that enforces these repressive laws instead of improving communication with our people,” said Mong Palatino, chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said.
‘Not so vibrant’
The groups belied claims by the Philippine government that the state of freedom of expression and opinion in the country is vibrant.
In his speech, Altermidya Chairperson Raymund Villanueva criticized the NTC, saying that “instead of defending the Filipino people against liars, you punish those who tell the truth.”
“What we do is amplify the voices of the Filipino people. We are defending the truth and the rights yet we are the one being oppressed of these rights,” he said.
Ronalyn Olea, editor-in-chief of Bulatlat and secretary general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, asserted that state censorship also violates the people’s right to information.
“They don’t want us to continue to expose the truth. They want to remove the platforms where the marginalized and oppressed sectors, like the workers of the peasants, are expressing their legitimate grievances,” said Olea.
Meanwhile, Kim Cantillas of the Computer Professionals Union (CPU) underscored that the Philippine government also violated the basic rights of Filipinos to access information and the right to privacy when it railroaded the SIM registration law.
“What we do is amplify the voices of the Filipino people. We are defending the truth and the rights yet we are the one being oppressed of these rights,” Cantillas said.
Junk Anti-Terror Law
The protesters also reiterated their demand for the repeal of the Anti-Terror Act and a stop to red-tagging.
Estrelieta “Ka Inday” Bagasbas of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap lamented that the constant red-tagging against her has affected her psychologically. She said the constant fear has resulted in her inability to even do such basic tasks as eating and thinking properly.
Environmental activist and abduction victim, Jonila Castro, said that officials of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) are hypocrites. She said that while these officials deny all the human rights violations they committed, they also intimidate human rights defenders.
Castro and fellow environmental activist Jhed Tamano were abducted in Bataan in September 2022. They were later surfaced in a government press conference where they revealed that they were abducted by the military.
Butch Lozande of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura reiterated that they will not stop to fight for their rights “as long as the very low wages of agricultural workers continue to exist, and the lack of agricultural land, we will not stop the struggle of the peasant classes to destroy this system that exists in our society.” (RVO)