By EMILY VITAL
MANILA — Leaders of people’s organizations and editors of media outfits sent a joint letter to National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), Feb. 5, urging the agency to rescind its June 8, 2022 memorandum ordering the blocking of 27 websites.
The groups cited Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan’s initial findings and recommendations, particularly her declaration that the website blocking is a “direct form of censorship.” In her exit statement, Feb. 2, Khan said that any restriction to freedom of expression requires a higher degree of scrutiny and should take into account international standards of legality, necessity and proportionality.
“We maintain that such standards were not met when the NTC issued its order. There is no legal basis for the NTC to block our websites as none of the media and people’s organizations whose sites were blocked have been designated by the ATC [Anti-Terrorism Council],” the joint letter addressed to NTC Commissioner Ella Blanca Lopez read.
The groups added that no evidence was ever provided to back the request of the National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. to justify the blocking of the websites.
They lamented how they “were clearly deprived of our right to due process, including our right to be informed about the order, and the right to be given a chance to counter these serious allegations.”
The groups reiterated that “coverage of human rights violations, criticisms and even dissent are legitimate expressions of our democratic rights.”
“Insisting on the blocking of our websites runs counter to the government’s claims of having a vibrant democracy. We call on the Philippine government to stop violating the people’s right to free expression and opinion,” they said.
Of the 27 websites, only the website of Bulatlat has been unblocked following a court decision. The media outfit filed a petition for the nullification of the NTC memorandum, which remains pending in a Quezon City court.
Among those who signed the letter are former Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan; former Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, chairperson of Unyon ng Manggagawa of Agrikultura; former Gabriela Women’s Rep. Liza Maza, secretary general of International League of People’s Struggle; and, Zenaida Soriano, chairperson of peasant women group Amihan.