Immediate House probe sought on blocking of red-tagged websites

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
Immediate House probe sought on blocking of red-tagged websites
Activist groups marched from University of the Philippines Diliman to the Commision on Human Rights on June 4, 2020 to protest the passage of the "Anti-Terrorism Act."
Philstar.com / EC Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers from the progressive Makabayan bloc are calling on the House of Representatives to immediately launch an investigation into the National Telecommunications Commission’s order to block more than 20 websites identified by former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon to be linked to the armed communist rebellion.

Led by Rep. France Castro (ACT Teachers party-list), the three-member group filed Monday House Resolution No. 49 calling on the human rights and public information panels to immediately conduct a probe on the blocking of the red-tagged websites, which include independent news outlets Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.

Castro, along with Reps. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela party-list) and Raoul Danniel Manuel (Kabataan party-list), stressed that neither Esperon nor the NTC provided any evidence to back up the claim that these websites are affiliated with the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army or the National Democratic Front.

They added that the websites which were blocked were not given notice nor were heard in a trial or any other proceeding by the NTC and the National Security Council.

“What the NTC and NSC did is blatant red-tagging — linking these organizations to the communist movement. This is also disinformation, given that Esperon and the agencies are maliciously misrepresenting progressives, the media, even the religious, are part of supporting and related to the armed struggle,” the lawmakers said.

‘No legal basis’

The Makabayan bloc also said that the blocking of websites “has no legal basis and therefore illegal,” noting that nothing in the charter and enabling laws of the NTC allows it or any other agency to block access to websites, especially without a court order.

They added that Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 also do not give the Anti-Terrorism Council or the NTC powers to block websites.

“Since it has no basis in law and in fact, the memorandum also blatantly operates as an unconstitutional permissible restriction on the freedom of expression and speech, which the organizations and the individuals comprising them undoubtedly have,” the Makabayan bloc said.

They continued, “It also creates a chilling effect against critical opinion and people’s participation, both of which are indispensable for a working democracy.”

The lawmakers said the blocking of the websites happened in the context of incessant red-tagging of independent media and previous cyberattacks against them, including distributed denial of service attacks — which bring down a website by flooding it with traffic — some of which were traced back to the Department of Science and Technology and the Philippine Army.

They also recalled that it was also Esperon and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict who initiated the closing of 55 schools for Lumad children by linking them to the CPP-NPA-NDF.

“Such acts should not be committed again as long as we remain in a democracy. Purveyors of disinformation, malicious red-taggers and attackers of free press and speech using disinformation and red-tagging should never be countenanced, especially if they are holders of power,” the lawmakers said.

Bulatlat had requested a Quezon City court to temporarily stop the NTC’s blocking of the websites identified by Esperon, but the court denied this plea as it found the news organization’s website was still accessible even if Philstar.com was unable to access it on mobile and laptop using PLDT Wifi.

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