Esperon has sites of news orgs, progressive groups blocked as 'communist affiliates'

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Esperon has sites of news orgs, progressive groups blocked as 'communist affiliates'
This undated file photo shows National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo, file

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 2:17 p.m.) — Citing the government's designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and National Democratic Front of the Philippines as terrorist organizations, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has requested the National Telecommunications Commission access to several websites, including two alternative media sites.

Esperon listed 28 websites in his letter to NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, saying that "Communist Terrorist Groups" have supposedly established online presence through their websites.

But Esperon’s list of websites included alternative news sites Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly, and progressive groups Save Our Schools Network, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Pamalakaya Pilipinas, Amihan and BAYAN. These organizations have long been red-tagged by the government.

In asking the NTC to block access to the sites, Esperon told the NTC that they are "affiliated to and are supporting these terrorist and terrorist organizations."

He did not state any more basis or grounds to link the groups to the designated terrorist groups.

Bulatlat said in a statement that it condemns "this brazen violation of our right to publish, and of the public’s right to free press and free expression." The news site, launched in 2001, said it has been working to shed light on issues that affect marginalized sectors.

"These include the struggles of farmers for land, of indigenous peoples for their ancestral domain and right to self-determination, of urban poor for their right to decent housing, of victims of human rights violations for justice, among others," it said.

PinoyMedia Center, publisher of Pinoy Weekly, decried the memorandum from the regulatory body and said that it will hamper their “mission to provide the public with alternative views on issues concerning the marginalized sectors.”

PMC then demanded the NTC to retract its directive and “allow media to fulfill its duty to the public.”

It added that the move does not only violate the freedom of the press but also is “an affront to the people’s right to information, especially with the proliferation of disinformation, misinformation and malinformation on social media.”

Does ATA authorize blocking of websites?

Under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the Anti-Terrorism Council, where Esperon sits as vice-chairperson, can designate individuals or organizations as terrorists based on probable cause.

During oral arguments on petitions opposing the ATA, government lawyers argued designation only triggers the freezing of bank accounts and not arrests.

It is unclear whether Esperon’s request is sanctioned by the letter of the ATA or its Implementing Rules and Regulations. The Department of Justice has yet to respond to reporters’ questions.

But the SC, in resolving the petitions said: "The Court finds that petitioners have sufficiently alleged the presence of a credible threat of injury for being constant targets of ‘red-tagging’ or ‘truth tagging.’ Therefore, they satisfy the requisites of the traditional concept of legal standing.”

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