MANILA, Philippines — The Integrated Bar Association of the Philippines said on Saturday that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) lacks the authority to limit access to certain news websites and members of the press due to unrelated links. proven with the communist rebels.
It was revealed earlier this week that National Security Advisor Hermogenes Esperon Jr. had asked the NTC to block public access to nearly 30 websites that he said were “affiliated with and supported” terrorists. He did not cite evidence for his claims in his application.
In a June 8, 2022 memorandum, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba approved the request and ordered internet service providers to “immediately block” the websites.
Two of the websites are owned by independent media, namely Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly, both of which have a long history of dealing with people’s issues.
“The NTC does not have the power to restrict access to news websites and members of the press based on mere allegations. Nor can it expand the scope of the Council’s Designation Order counter-terrorism to affiliates at the slightest invocation of terrorism,” the Integrated Bar Association of the Philippines (IBP) said. said in a statement shared on Twitter Saturday.
“To take down websites is to muzzle their owners. Such a sweeping decision cannot be anchored on statements that in court would be treated as hearsay,” he added.
Esperon’s request to the CNT would have linked the blocked websites to the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front, which are classified as terrorist organizations as mentioned in three separate resolutions of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC).
The IBP said Esperson “simply alleged” a link between the blocked websites and the organizations identified by the ATC. He had “only attached press articles found on said websites and claimed that they violated the anti-terrorism law”.
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Citing Article 25 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, the IBP explained that the law only authorizes the freezing of assets of individuals, groups, organizations and associations designated as terrorists by the ATC. The Anti-Money Laundering Council will be in charge of freezing assets.
“This baseless order endangers not only the freedom of the press, but also the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and progressive groups,” the IBP said.
The group also said the National Security Council’s request, which lacked a legal basis, “only serves to embarrass the outgoing administration and [will] bind the hands of his successor.”
Red-labeling, or associating activist groups with communist armed struggle, is a common tactic of government agencies and officials and has been used against environmentalists, human rights activists and journalists, regardless of whatever their ideologies.
The Human Rights Commission has previously warned that the widespread practice of red marking “violates the constitutional guarantee of the presumption of innocence and may have serious implications for the safety and movement of the individuals and groups involved”.
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