NTC has no power to block websites – IBP

Robertzon Ramirez - The Philippine Star
NTC has no power to block websites � IBP
In a statement, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said the NTC has no power to restrict access to news websites just on the basis of hearsay or “extend the scope of the Anti-Terrorism Council’s designation order to ‘affiliates’ at the nearest invocation of terrorism.”
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The move of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to block several websites, including those from independent media organizations, endangers not only press freedom, but also the legitimate activities of human rights groups, the national organization of the country’s lawyers said.

In a statement, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said the NTC has no power to restrict access to news websites just on the basis of hearsay or “extend the scope of the Anti-Terrorism Council’s designation order to ‘affiliates’ at the nearest invocation of terrorism.”

IBP’s statement came after National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. requested the NTC to block at least 30 websites that he deemed were affiliated with communist rebels, including some news websites.

“The NTC’s order silenced nuns, priests and reporters,” the IBP added.

Taking down news websites, IBP said, “is to muzzle their owners” and “such a drastic move can’t be anchored on statements that in court would be treated as hearsay.”

The IBP also stressed that the only effect of designation, as stated under the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, is the freezing of assets by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) of groups tagged as terrorists.

“The NSC (National Security Council)’s letter-request, bereft of legal basis, only serves to embarrass the outgoing administration and, with less than eight days before the inauguration, tie the hands of its successor. The Supreme Court has already affirmed the constitutionality of the ATA’s designation process,” the IBP said.

With this, the IBP said it could not help but ask if lawyers are next in line – their websites shut down – if they marginalized sectors tagged as terror affiliates by the Anti-Terror Council (ATC).

The IBP said the NSC should file appropriate cases and request for designation instead of “resorting to censorial shortcuts.”

Former Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio also said the NTC cannot unilaterally shut down or restrict access to a website without a court order.

In an interview with “The Chiefs” over Cignal TV’s One News Friday night, Carpio said the owners of the news websites ordered blocked for alleged links to communist groups may challenge the NTC order.

“NTC has no power to shut down any website. They have to get a court order, especially when the website is a news platform because that is an exercise of freedom of expression. They cannot just close it down,” he said.

Among those blocked were websites of independent media organizations Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.

Not in ATC’s list

Carpio noted that the media organizations included in the list were not among those designated as terrorist groups by the ATC.

“If you look at it, the ATC never designated these websites or the website owners as terrorist groups. It’s just the NSC,” said the former magistrate.

“In fact, the ATC is washing its hands. They said, ‘we did not do anything’ so what the website owners should do is bring NSC to court and also the NTC for implementing the order or the request of the NSC,” he added.

Citing the Anti-Terrorism Act, Carpio also said the only consequence of being designated as a terrorist group is the freezing of the group’s assets by the AMLC.

“They cannot shut down the website because that would be in violation of freedom of expression and only the court can order the shutting down of a website because that is a freedom guaranteed by the Constitution,” he added.

Carpio, however, believes that the NTC order cannot be used to challenge the Anti-Terror Law.

“It’s difficult to bring in the ATC because they’re washing their hands off. This is a completely unauthorized illegal act of the NSC and the NTC,” he said.

“The National Security Council has no power to order the shutting down of any website, especially websites that are engaged in news dissemination. That’s freedom of expression,” he pointed out.

Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said owners of the websites tagged as having terror links may seek redress from the courts.

Pimentel stressed more details are needed to clarify or even justify the NTC’s move, which he considered “overbroad.”

“You can use the (argument) that it’s (ban) possibly overbroad, too broad, somebody just disagreed and you thought ‘the criticism is too painful’ but that’s part of democracy. Maybe the critics were good with words, it hits you but then it’s part of democracy,” Pimentel told radio dwIZ.

He said he found alarming and problematic Esperon’s use of the label “leftist” in justifying the blocking of the websites.

“That’s the problem, if we say leftist, it’s as if it’s an opinion, we must look at the details, why would we deny access to websites to Filipinos? This means we want to limit what they want to read, or know, that’s not good,” the senator said.

He said for Filipinos to develop independent thinking, critical thinking, they should be given the chance to decide for themselves, and not because somebody decided for them.

“Now if the one in power is leftist, he would say ‘don’t read the rightist sites and ideas,’ the rightist point of view is banned,” he said.

Inquiry eyed

Pimentel said he may seek an inquiry into the matter when the 19th Congress opens on July 25.

Through a memorandum dated June 8 and signed by Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, the NTC ordered the immediate blocking of websites found by the NSC “to be affiliated to and are supporting terrorists and terrorist organizations.”

In his letter to Cordoba dated June 6, Esperon noted the ATC has issued three resolutions declaring the CPP-NPA-NDF and their central committee members as terrorists and terrorist organizations.

“In this regard, may we request the NTC to issue legal instruments to order Philippine internet service providers to block access to the following websites affiliated to and are supporting these terrorists and terrorist organizations,” Esperon said in his letter.

The websites cited by the NSC include those of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, Jose Maria Sison, The Official Publication of the NDF, Philippine Revolution Web Central, Bulatlat, Hiyaw, PRWC Newsroom, Revolutionary Council of Trade Unions, Compatriots-Revolutionary Organization of Overseas Filipino and their Families, Save Our Schools Network, UMA Pilipinas, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Pamalayaka Pilipinas, AMIHAN National Federation of Peasant Women, BAYAN, Arkibong Bayan, International League of People Struggle, Pinoy Weekly, Counter Punch, International Action Center, Monthly Review, People’s March, Taga-Ilog News, Partisa-News and People Resist News. – Janvic Mateo, Paolo Romero

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with