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: October 14, 2020 - 2:35pm

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 

October 14, 2020 - 2:35pm

The Anti-Terrorism Council has aproved the Implementing Rules and Regulations for the Anti-Terrorism Law, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirms.

The implementing guidelines were crafted by a technical working group led by the DOJ, he also says.

"We will disseminate copies to the Congress and to law enforcement agencies as required under the law, and will publish the IRR online and in a newspaper of general circulation in the next few days," he says.

August 30, 2020 - 12:47pm

Desaparecidos, an organization made up of families of victims of enforced disappearances, is worried that more may go missing under the anti-terrrorism law.

"We fear that Duterte's terror law will enable State forces to resort to extraordinary measures such as abductions and enforced disappearances like what they did to my daughter to instill fear on its critics and activists as the government spins out of control because of the pandemic and the ailing economy," Erlinda Cadapan, Desaparecidos chairperson and mother of missing University of the Philippines student Sherlyn Cadapan, says in a statement.

She says that Section 29 of the Anti-Terrorism Act allows detention without charges for up to 24 days "practically opens up the option for State forces to resort to enforce disappearance rather than complying with legal requirements to detain suspects."

August 25, 2020 - 9:30am

The Free Legal Assistance Group, which represents senators and media practitioners in a petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act, urges the Supreme Court to issue a temporart restraining order against the new law.

The group says the statement of Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gilbert Gapay to regulate social media is "repression in broad daylight."

"At the very least, the foregoing statements of the AFP Chief of Staff confirm that the ATA is both so overbroad and vague that it is susceptible to being used for an unconstitutional end, that is a weapon against free speech and dissent," the motion read.

August 24, 2020 - 12:57pm

Solicitor General Jose Calida asks the Supreme Court to cancel the oral arguments on the petitions against the anti-terrorism law.

Calida cites logistical restrictions and health threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that oral arguments would entail the presence of members of the Court, at least 300 petitioners and their counsels, 16 OSG lawyers and support staff.

"Further, the sheer number of participants will make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain social distancing within the En Banc Session Hall. In this regard alone, even puttig the matter of the age and health vulnerabilities of some of the participants aside, it is submitted that their physical presence for in-court oral arguments is inadvisable," Calida says in his urgent motion.

August 3, 2020 - 2:47pm

It is not the intention of the anti-terror bill to regulate social media, says Rep. Ruffy Biazon (Muntinlupa), co-author of the anti-terrorism bill that is now a law, on Twitter.

Biazon is reacting to a statement from the military that what it calls a "very, very good law" that is "comprehensive" be applied to social media.

The controversial Anti-Terrorism Law is now being challenged by more than a dozen petitioners at the Supreme Court as it is seen to have vague provisions allowing abuses against rights to free speech, due process and privacy.

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