NTC has 'no power' to restrict access to news websites, members of the press — IBP

Angelica Y. Yang - Philstar.com
NTC has 'no power' to restrict access to news websites, members of the press � IBP
Protesters flash streamers, shout slogan while onboard their vehicles calling to junk the anti-terrorism bill during their picket at Congress last June 3, 2020
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The Integrated Bar of the Philippines said Saturday the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has no power to limit access to some news websites and members of the press due to unproven links with communist rebels. 

It was revealed earlier this week that National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. asked the NTC to block public access to nearly 30 websites which he claimed were "affiliated to and are supporting" terrorists. He did not cite evidence of his claims in his request. 

In a June 8, 2022 memorandum, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba approved of the request and ordered internet service providers to "effect the immediate blocking" of the websites. 

Two of the websites are from the independent media, namely Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly— both of which have long been reporting on people's issues.

"The NTC has no power to restrict access to news websites and members of the press based on mere allegations. Neither may it extend the scope of the Anti-Terrorism Council's designation order to affiliates at the barest invocation of terrorism," the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said in a statement shared on Twitter on Saturday. 

"To takedown the websites is to muzzle their owners. Such a drastic move can't be anchored on statements that in court would be treated as hearsay," it added.

'Mere allegations'

Esperon's request to the NTC allegedly linked the blocked websites to the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People's Army and National Democratic Front which are classified as terrorist organizations as mentioned in three separate resolutions of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC). 

The IBP said Esperson "merely alleged" a connection between the blocked websites and the organizations identified by the ATC. He had "only attached news articles found on the said websites and claimed they violated the Anti-Terrorism Act." 

RELATED: Lacson: Anti-Terrorism Act could justify blocking of websites

Citing Section 25 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, IBP explained that the law only allows for the asset freezing of individuals, groups, organizations and associations who are designated as terrorists by the ATC. It is the Anti Money Laundering Council which will be in charge of the freezing of assets. 

"This baseless order endangers not only the liberty of the press, but also the legitimate activities of human rights advocates and progressive groups," the IBP said. 

The group also said that the National Security Council's request, which was lacking legal basis, "only serves to embarass the outgoing administration and [will] tie the hands of its successor."

Red-tagging, or linking activist groups to the communist armed struggle, is a common tactic of government agencies and officials and has been used against environmentalists, human rights workers and journalists regardless of their ideologies. 

The Commission on Human Rights has earlier warned that the widespread practice of red-tagging "violates the constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence and may have serious implications on the security and movement of individuals and groups involved."

RELATED: Incoming NSA chief on 'unproductive' practice of red-tagging: Let's stop doing that

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