This file photo shows DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, who is also the department's spokesperson.
The STAR/Michael Varcas, file
DILG backs UE campus journalist on free speech, hits activist groups that supported him
(Philstar.com) - April 8, 2020 - 7:31pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of the Interior and Local Government backed University of the East campus journalist Joshua Molo who was asked to apologize and threatened with a cyberlibel case for posting criticism of the government on social media.

DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said Wednesday that Molo did not do anything wrong when he posted his personal opinion on the government's response to the COVID-19 crisis on Facebook.

“The DILG supports the rights of Filipinos to free expression, that’s a fundamental human right that is protected by the Constitution,” Malaya was quoted in a statement.

According to student-led online publication UE RedWire, the UE Dawn editor-in-chief was forced by barangay officials and his former high school teachers in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija to make a public apology for criticizing the administration's efforts in stopping the spread of novel coronavirus.

Molo later released a statement and clarified that she was invited by officials of Barangay San Fernando Sur in Cabiao for a mediation meeting over a blotter report filed by his former teacher Jun Ainne Francisco.

The complaint stemmed from Molo’s exchange on Facebook with Francisco and other former teachers of Molo—Mel Garcia and Roger Dela Cruz—on the government’s actions on the COVID-19 crisis.

The three said the student journalist should come out with a video of public apology.

Malaya: National government not involved

Malaya however hit the College Editors Guild of the Philippines and rights group Karapatan for tagging the national government when “it was never involved here.”

Karapatan on April 5 raised the alarm on the incident and reminded authorities that the right to free speech is enshrined in the Constitution. CEGP meanwhile said officials should instead “work on improving a coordinated and sustained public information.”

It also said that "at a time when our country needs checks and balances, especially when Congress just granted Duterte additional powers despite the lack of concrete plans to solve COVID-19, we need a free flow of democracy." 

The DILG official however pointed out that Molo’s former teachers pressured him and not the government, a fact that CEGP and Karapatan acknowledged in their statements.

CEGP, in its April 5 statement condemning the harassment of Molo, noted that "his former teachers had pressured him to publicly apologize over a Facebook post criticizing the Duterte regime's negligence amid the COVID-19 pandemic."

The group also said: "Rather than on outspoken journalists like Joshua Molo, pressure should be put on Duterte and his cohorts to hold them accountable for not heeding the demands of the Filipino people."

Karapatan, in a statement also released on April 5, did not say the national government was involved in Molo's case either.

"We are alarmed by this incident as it is a case of curtailment of the right to free expression," the rights group that the government has accused of being a front for communist rebels said.

"Karapatan would like to remind authorities that the right to free speech is protected by the Philippine Constitution and international human rights instruments. Anyone who wishes to express dismay over government’s actions should never be threatened and penalized," it also said.

Malaya claimed that the two groups’ statements are "another way of misinformation to malign and blame everything on the government where we should be working together to fight the common enemy, the coronavirus."

The National Bureau of Investigation has summoned a Facebook user to its office over a post commenting on how the government has money to buy a Gulfstream jet as a command-and-control platform but not for healthcare. 

"We are very much interested if it is a fake information being spread through social media or if [the person] has basis (for the post)," NBI Cybercrime Division chief Victor Lorenzo said in Filipino on Monday, adding that the NBI's understanding is that the post meant the government bought a P2-billion jet during the COVID-19 crisis.

Police have also arrested and filed complaints against 32 people for allegedly peddling "fake news" about the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) either on social media platforms or by gossiping in their communities. — Kristine Joy Patag

COVID-19 DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT NOVEL CORONAVIRUS UNIVERSITY OF THE EAST
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