Esperon defends blocking sites, calls it protection vs 'leftist misinformation'

Esperon defends blocking sites, calls it protection vs 'leftist misinformation'
This undated file photo shows National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo, file

MANILA, Philippines — National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. defended his request to block nearly 30 websites as he believes it would protect the online sphere that Filipinos use to inform themselves.

The National Telecommunications Commission heeded Esperon’s request and blocked websites that the official claimed to have affiliations or are supporting "terrorist groups," without providing evidence.

The 28 websites include independent news sites, such as Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly, as well as cause-oriented groups like the Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

Multiple organizations have criticized the move, saying it is an attempt to silence the free press and freedom of expression. 

But Esperon, in a statement headed "The Restriction of Communist Terrorist Group Affiliated Websites is a win for the Nation Against Leftist Misinformation, NPA Recruitment and Propaganda", insisted that both Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly are "actively supported organizations affiliated with the CPP-NPA-NDF."

The Communist Party of the Philippines, in a statement, said only seven out of the 28 websites are actually affiliated with the party. The rest are of alternative news organizations, progressive journalists and academics, and local cause-oriented groups. 

"To call our act of protecting the integrity of our nation’s digital space as an act of ‘desperation,’ or a ‘blatant attack on free speech,’ reeks of desperation because they not only are unable to counter these arguments through any respectable means, but they are actively pursuing acts of terrorism within their respective organizations," Esperon insisted.

Esperon claims violations of ATA

He instead included excerpts of their reportage, which he claims violated the Anti-Terrorism Act. 

Esperon cited a Pinoy Weekly article that argued that armed struggle is a legitimate avenue for changing society.

The excerpt cited the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution as examples of armed conflict by people who rebelled against "what they saw as an oppressive system, class or regime." The excerpt also cited the Philippine Revolution as an example.

Esperon said the article falls under Inciting to Commit Terrorism in the Anti-Terrroism Act.

Another Pinoy Weekly excerpt on how the Communist Part of the Philippines ordered the New People's Army to recruit fighters from among peasant youth, workers, intellectuals and other sectors. The excerpt also cited how the CPP told the NPA to "raise its capacity in guerrilla warfare".

Esperon said this was Recruitment to and Membership in a Terrorist Organization under the ATA.

Neither alleged violation of the ATA was cited in his letter to the NTC that led to the blocking of the websites.

Esperon also insisted that he did not infringe the organizations’ rights to free speech, saying they could just use other platforms for their pieves.

"Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, and other websites stated in our letter to [the] NTC are free to continue publishing articles and editorial pieces that fit their messaging lines, but they will not be accessible to internet users in this country," he said.

Acting Presidential Spokesman Martin Andanar said those affected by the move may exhaust available legal remedies and said the NTC’s move to block the websites "is upon the request of the National Security Council in performance of its mandate." 

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