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Clampdown on freedom of expression in Philippines alarms UN human rights chief
Shoppers sit on chairs as they wait for their turn to enter a grocery store in a mall in Manila on June 2, 2020, a day after the government eased up quarantine measures aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in the country's capital.
AFP/Ted Aljibe

Clampdown on freedom of expression in Philippines alarms UN human rights chief

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - June 4, 2020 - 8:33am

MANILA, Philippines — The United Nations rights chief sounded alarm over the arbitrary arrests of people who criticize their government’s response to the coronavirus crisis or even simply share views on the pandemic in different Asian countries, including the Philippines.

In a statement, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Asian nations were suppressing freedom of expression and tightening censorship during the coronavirus crisis.

“In the Philippines, arrests have been made under new COVID-19 special powers legislation which criminalizes the alleged spread of ‘false information,’” Bachelet said.

She cited the provision in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which penalizes spreading “false information” on social media and other platforms. Those found violating the provision may face imprisonment for two months or a fine of not less than P10,000. Courts may also impose a fine of up to P1 million.

This led to the arrest of artist Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran in April over a satirical Facebook post about the coronavirus situation in Sitio Zapatera in Cebu City.

In early April, the National Bureau of Investigation said they sent out dozens of “invitations” to individuals under its fact-finding probe into posts allegedly bearing false information.

The UN rights chief also mentioned the move of the Department of Labor and Employment to seek the deportation of a Filipina worker in Taiwan who is accused of making “nasty and malevolent” social media posts criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Taiwan rejected the move to deport the migrant worker.

While she recognized the need to restrict misinformation and disinformation to protect public health or prevent incitement of hatred toward minority groups, Bachelet said this “must be proportionate and protect freedom of expression.”

“In these times of great uncertainty, medical professionals, journalists, human rights defenders and the general public must be allowed to express opinions on vitally important topics of public interest such as provision of health care and the handling of the health and socio-economic crisis and the distribution of relief items,” Bachelet said.

“This crisis should not be used to restrict dissent or the free flow of information and debate. A diversity of viewpoints will foster greater understanding of the challenges we face and help us better overcome them,” she added.

The controversial anti-terrorism bill is now up for Duterte's signature after the House of Represenatives passed Wednesday the proposed measure, which is feared to infringe on people's freedom of association and expression. 

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION MICHELLE BACHELET NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 22, 2021 - 10:14am

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Law on July 3 despite opposition from rights groups and civil society groups that it could be used to stifle human rights.

A petition against the law has been filed at the Supreme Court and other groups are preparing pleadings of their own.

Follow this page for updates. Photo courtesy of The STAR/Michael Varcas 

February 22, 2021 - 10:14am

The fourth day of Oral arguments on the petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Law, which was scheduled on February 23, is suspended.

The Supreme Court says the oral arguments will resume on March 2 at 2:30 p.m.

SC clerk of court Edgar Aricheta says some of the justices are on self quarantine as a precaution against COVID-19.

February 9, 2021 - 3:10pm

Solicitor General Jose Calida says Aeta farmers Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos are withdrawing their petition-in-intervention to join the legal fight against the Anti-Terrorism Act.

He says, citing affidavits from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples' and the Public Attorney's Office, that the two say they were offered P1,000 to sign the petition.

They say they did not sign the petition-in-intervention voluntarily.

February 4, 2021 - 8:52pm

Inquirer.net condemns the threat of Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. to sue reporter Tetch Torres-Tupas for her report on two Aetas who sought help from the Supreme Court against the anti-terrorism law.

Parlade accused Torres-Tupas as a propagandist in a Facebook post on February 3.

"INQUIRER.net takes vigorous exception to the apparent red-tagging of our reporter and expresses alarm over Parlade’s attempt to sow fear, stifle dissent and curtail her right to make truthful and objective reports," Inquirer.net says in a statement.

January 25, 2021 - 9:01pm

Retired Supreme Court justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales urge the high court to confirm whether social media post attributed to "Antonio Parlade" is an official communication from the government. 

The petitioners ask the SC to direct the Office of the Solicitor General to write an explanation about the post advising the public to be "watchful of groups opposing the anti-terror law.

"Though some portions directly name specific persons, the Post also groups together petitioners as part of 'individuals, groups and organizations' who should be monitored for 'pposing a law that will protect citizens from terrorists,'" the petition read.

January 15, 2021 - 4:25pm

The Supreme Court resets oral arguments on anti-terrorism law petitions to February 2, after Solicitor General Jose Calida said his assistant solicitor general and some staff tested positive for COVID-19. — Philstar.com/Kristine Joy Patag

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