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: July 9, 2020 - 4:15pm

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 

July 9, 2020 - 4:15pm

Activists with the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines US chapter and the Malaya movement (Malaya: U.S. Movement Against Killings and Dictatorship in the Philippines) march in Washington DC to protest passage of the Anti-Terrrorism Law and call for its scrapping.

"We unite in solidarity with the Filipino people and vehemently condemn the passing of the law. We cannot overlook the influence of the United States in the push for the Anti-Terror Law, which in design mimics the increased state surveillance and state power modeled in the U.S. Patriot Act," says ICHRP-US spokesperson Drew Elizarde-Miller.

The protests are part of a global day of action against Duterte’s Anti-Terror law. More than 10 cities joined in the US-wide condemnation gatherings, ICHRP-US also says.

July 6, 2020 - 12:16pm

Lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives file another petition against the anti-terrorism law before the Supreme Court.

The lawmakers ask the high court to review the controversial law and declare it unconstitutional "on its face."

"Its overbroad and vague definition of 'terrorism' punishes even free speech and expression, free press, and the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances," the lawmakers say in a statement.

July 6, 2020 - 9:14am

Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay) files a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism law.

Lagman asks the high court to issue a temporary restraining order or a writ of preliminary injunction restraining the government from enforcing the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

The lawmaker also appeals to the SC to nullify the law as unconstitutional for "being replete with constitutional infirmities."

July 6, 2020 - 8:42am

A group of lawyers led by Howard Calleja and Bro. Armin Luistro from the De La Salle Brothers physically file the first petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

The lawyers earlier filed the petition by email last Saturday, which has been acknowledged by the Supreme Court.

July 5, 2020 - 2:05pm

The Palace declines comment on a petition against the Anti-Terrorism Law filed on Saturday.

"The Palace will leave it to the SC to decide on these petitions and will abide by whatever the ruling is," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.

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